Of land tenure reforms, irrigation

Joan Acom

What you need to know:

The obvious bottleneck to irrigation development is clearly the unfavourable land tenure systems and management

Of land tenure reforms, irrigation

The obvious bottleneck to irrigation development is clearly the unfavourable land tenure systems and management

Joan Acom

 Land reforms

For Uganda to register any progress in agriculture mechanisation and food security the  land tenure system needs urgent reform.

The 2022 / 2023 Budget was recently posted allover social media with the most captivating theme: “Full Monetisation of the Ugandan economy through commercial agriculture, industrialisation, expanding and broadening services, digital transformation and market access.”

The push for commercial agriculture is a welcome song, notwithstanding the many times it has been sang.

The government has arguably attempted to match the move for commercial agriculture with the stampeded roll out of the Parish Development Model, and the President’s renewed resolve to have the controversial Constitutional Land Amendment Bill return to the floor of Parliament.

 Government is determined to amend Article 26 of the Constitution. As a land rights defender, I am inclined to support this Bill on two conditions.

First, the people framing it must convince the country that, apart from seeking to improve the process of land acquisition for big infrastructure projects, it also seeks to remove the key barriers to irrigation development as this is now a matter of life and death.  Second, the Bill must prove that it can address the loopholes in the mailo and customary tenure systems, and it should ultimately seek to consolidate the demarcation and documentation of individually and communally owned customary land.

 In line with the European Union objective, Parliament must scrutinise the contents of this Bill to ensure inclusion of the vulnerable people before it is passed. That said, in what ways are the four land tenure systems in Uganda a roadblock to irrigation development, and what needs to change? 

It may, however, suffice to first clarify the difference between land reform and land tenure reform, which many people tend to conflate.

 Land reform entails a fundamental change which redistributes land and passes power, property and status from one societal group to another. This is certainly not what the government seeks to do even when it could have been the best path to take. Land tenure reform usually involves changes in the rules that govern land and related property rights.

 Therefore, the emphasis placed on land tenure reform points to the need for tenure security. The four types of tenure in Uganda can be considered secure or insecure depending on many factors, and these largely depend on four sets of rights; user; transfer; exclusion; and enforcement.

The major question in seeking any land tenure reform in Uganda should be preceded by an investigation to ascertain if the customary land tenure system, for instance, is static or even secure in its seemingly sacred form.

Additionally, are the traditional tenure systems totally the polar opposites to the Western-world property rights to make the government moot compulsory land acquisition?

Doesn’t Article 26 already guarantee transfer rights? Are there no conflicts between landlords and squatters, and among relatives on particularly mailo and customary land? As such, what land reforms or land tenure reforms would foster the development of irrigation to mitigate the effects of climate change on food security?

From January to May, people in Teso Sub-region watched the skies for signs of rainfall with the same accustomed learned helplessness. This is despite the abundant water resources that straddle four districts of Katakwi, Kumi, Soroti and Serere.  Lake Bisina, which is connected upstream by a wetland to Lake Opeta and drains into Lake Kyoga, can provide irrigation schemes on several hectares of land for commercial food production to solve the acute food shortages in Karamoja and Teso.

If one surveys the nature of land ownership fragmentation in said the areas, the obvious bottleneck to irrigation development is clearly the unfavourable land tenure systems and management.

Ms Joan Acom Alobo, Woman MP Soroti City.