Revising land allocation for nature to flourish

Juliet Katusiime Zizinga (PhD). Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • To ensure land exchange, inheritance, or distribution practices that serve both the people and nature, I would suggest multi-level approaches

The days of  ‘okutenbura’ , a Runyoro-Rutooro word commonly used for free land discovery are long gone. Subsequently, about three of the recent generations are relying on property distribution through inheritance or purchase as the main property and land rights acquisition and exchange practice. 

Land exchange practices have been enabled by among other factors, legal instruments such as land, children, and succession laws. Many of these instruments adopted sections of the prevailing cultural practices on land and sandwiched therein some of the international principles and standards that, include demanding equal rights on land regardless of gender.

The trend yields positive outcomes such as equitable access to resources, yet it poses challenges in distribution, known as fragmentation, necessitating conflict resolution measures.

Questions regarding land distribution often arise upon the demise of primary rights holders, whose estates or assets are subject to sharing among lawful spouses, children, and dependents as per legal provisions. Land distribution tends to disrupt the natural ecosystems as each individual might choose different land management and use, the process results in smaller parcels that limit nature investment decisions, and loss of biodiversity as the majority convert into infrastructural development and the least being small-scale subsistence farming.

Probably, there will be a time when we cannot fragment land or distribute it due to a shrunk resource, but still, there will be some property rights to  share, such as rental fees and royalties.  Either time, certain conditions are needed in the land governance and administration system to make the sharing and management of property rights beneficial to people and the environment.

Such conditions, include proper processes to verify the beneficiaries and what is owed. There is need for a transparent, documented, estate management and growth system and infrastructure, seamless means to change and exchange rights with adequate protection, and overall high responsiveness to both people and the planet.

As we wait for the possibility of a well-thought-out land administration procedure that can serve justice, there are some immediate interventions that we can undertake to ensure land distribution is less detrimental to nature, such as fostering cooperation between Kins as a tool for continuity. 

Continuity of good environmental practices is what is normally called sustainability. Unfortunately, research shows that there are limited benefits of land distribution practices to environmental sustainability.

As such, to ensure land exchange, inheritance, or distribution practices that serve both the people and nature, I would suggest multi-level approaches. Firstly, by encouraging the cultural and central land governance systems to reassure collective and cooperative inheritance practices for instance, through awareness and education.  The practices can be supported through gender-inclusive policies and legal framework across any of the tenure systems.

To some extent, the customary (communal) system has been reinforcing collectiveness, but it is equally changing. Secondly, in situations where cooperation is not foreseeable, institutionalised estate or property management approaches that ensure an equitable sharing of proceeds of an undistributed land or property could be sought. Thirdly, the sharing could guarantee the sustenance of certain elements on that estate as a ‘’common property’’ for say the sharing family. It could be a forest, heritage site, rock, herb garden, tree, waterpoint, or any other deemed of both social-eco significance.

Last but not least, we can include environmental values, expectations, and demands in a (Last) Will, Agreement, Title Deed or any other documentation passing on land rights. The goal is to keep the environment rich and connected to a landscape despite possible land distribution, use changes and conversion.

Ms Juliet Katusiime Zizinga (PhD) is an environmental sustainability researcher and advocate