October 13, 2014

Tanzanian Villagers Take Land Use Planning Into Their Own Hands

Margie Miller, EcoAgriculture Partners

Tenure security and food security in Tanzania

At this week’s 41st meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on World Food Security, land tenure is sure to be an important topic. Villagers in Southern Tanzania also have this topic on their mind, as their communities are eyed with interest by the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a public-private partnership to rapidly expand investment in agricultural intensification and commercialization in this bread basket region of the country. Policy makers at the national level who are championing such initiatives argue that the well-being of smallholder farmers—the majority of Tanzania’s population—are at the core of the country’s new investment strategies to reduce poverty and improve food security.

However, in the Southern Corridor, rapid expansion of agricultural investment, intensification and commercialization threaten to negatively impact the production of local crops, varieties and animal breeds upon which millions of smallholders depend for their livelihoods and food security. Imminent plans for major external investments in agriculture could also negatively affect the ecosystem services on which family farming depends in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. Excessive water waste from antiquated irrigation systems, widespread soil erosion, and forest conversion to agriculture all threaten to accelerate landscape degradation.

An underused process for local governance

Villages have the right to make decisions on the types of investments on their village land. However, to do so requires that village land tenure has been secured through a complex process of village registration and land use planning (VLUP). In the Southern Corridor, and Mbarali District in particular, VLUP is a crucial stepping stone for village participation in the government’s plans to invest in and around villages. Tanzanian policy, through Land Act No. 5 of 1999, outlines a participatory process by which villages can plan land use within their boundaries. VLUP functions as a tool for conserving biodiversity, reserving land for investment, reducing land use conflicts, improving tenure security and establishing a market for land in order to boost rural economies. The VLUP process also provides a stepping stone for several other legal processes, such as customary land titling, designation of conservation areas, and more. However, this potentially powerful governance mechanism for improving tenure security for family farmers has been slow to advance. After more than a decade in action, less than one-tenth of Tanzania’s villages have developed VLUPs.

New report lays bare the obstacles

In Participatory Land Use Planning to Support Tanzanian Farmer and Pastoralist Investment: Experiences from Mbarali District, Mbeya Region, Tanzania, EcoAgriculture Partners project manager Abigail K. Hart and and co-authors Elly Tumsifu (University of Dar es Salaam), Zacharia Malley (ARI-Uyole), Rodgers Masha (TAP), Winnie Nguni (University of Dar es Salaam), John Recha (ERMCSD) and Louise Buck (Cornell University and EcoAgriculture Partners) explored why. With equitable agricultural development and ecosystem conservation to a large extent hinging on VLUP implementation, the District of Mbarali’s attempt to advance the VLUP process highlights the opportunities and challenges of this approach in the Southern Corridor.  Their research paper tells the tale of three Mbarali villages that have tried to engage in the VLUP process. From facing prohibitive costs to navigating a complex system of policies and procedures, and managing relationships with District Councils and neighboring villages, these villages have faced many obstacles. Despite these challenges, the villages see the opportunity that VLUP brings for protecting their village forest resources, promoting new economic activities like bee keeping and eco-tourism, and resolving conflicts over land use.

Partnerships for conflict resolution offer path forward

An accompanying Policy Focus spells out strengths and weaknesses of the current VLUP process, and makes recommendations for districts to streamline implementation of the VLUP process. The fact that the VLUP process aims to resolve land conflicts within villages, but can only move forward when existing conflicts between villages over village boundaries have been resolved, is a roadblock to the development of VLUPs. Partnerships with local organizations offer a promising opportunity for helping village councils navigate the VLUP process and engage effectively with district officials and neighboring village to advance VLUP.

Margie Miller is a communications associate at EcoAgriculture Partners.
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