We should realize the national land policy promise

Article Date

24 July 2014

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

A little-noticed, yet significant, event took place last month. Overshadowed by the equally-important state-of-the-nation address and the Finance minister’s reading of the national budget, Uganda’s new National Land Policy was finally launched, after a process that spanned 13 years.

Although the event received little fanfare and captured few headlines, it has the potential to impact millions of Ugandans for generations to come.

During their speeches, both the president and minister emphasized that a stronger agricultural sector was needed to drive economic progress in the country.

The new land policy presents an important key to unlocking this potential: giving women the right to own and inherit customary land for the first time in history. Because women contribute 80 per cent of Uganda’s agricultural labour force, effectively protecting these rights is more important than ever.

Rolling out the implementation plan of the new policy, therefore, requires particular attention to the sensitization of women’s land tenure rights across the country. Priority goes to rural areas, which have a deep tradition of living by the rules dictated by customary law. Doing so will increase women’s productivity – benefitting Uganda’s agricultural sector as a whole.

According to national statistics, Ugandan women contribute approximately 51 per cent of the national population and produce 50 per cent of the national wealth, yet they own only 11 per cent of land. If this disparity is not carefully addressed, none of the planned interventions outlined last month will spur significant changes in Uganda’s socioeconomic development indicators.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization gives an example of the potential impact of women’s land ownership. It has estimated that if women, worldwide, had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 per cent and pull 100 to 150 million people, around the world, out of hunger.

Like in many countries, women in Uganda are largely responsible for food-production and child-nurturing.  Yet food and nutrition security remain one of Uganda’s most fundamental challenges to human welfare and economic growth. According to government statistics, over 40 per cent of deaths among Ugandan children can be attributed, in part, to malnutrition.

Over 38 per cent of children below five years in Uganda are stunted – being significantly shorter than they should be, given their age – while 22.5 per cent are underweight. Although preventable, malnutrition not only weighs heavily on households in the short term but ultimately hurts us all.

Hunger and malnutrition have profound negative impacts on an individual’s development and potential productivity in the long term. According to a recent study by the agribusiness initiative trust, women in Uganda who own land tend to be more productive, invest in agri-business and take up the responsibility of providing for their families.

This includes paying school fees and health care bills. Consequently, improving women’s access to and control over land is crucial. Although Uganda’s laws and new land policy recognize women’s rights to own and inherit land, the difficulty remains in how to translate them into practice, when cultural beliefs often run counter to the national law.

This is true, especially in areas where customary land ownership remains undocumented – areas where the population traditionally believes that only men have the right to own land and property. Some 80 per cent of land in Uganda is held under unregistered customary tenure. Statistics show that even where land is legally registered, 86 per cent of it belongs to men.

The National Land Policy holds great promise for food and nutritional security, economic growth and women’s empowerment. Its provision for issuing certificates of customary ownership of land for men and women, families and communities is a golden opportunity.

However, only careful and deliberate attention to gender issues in implementation of the policy will fulfill its promise, by protecting the rights of women and their children, ultimately leading to a more productive Uganda for years to come.

The author is in charge of advocacy, networking and communication at the Uganda Community-Based Association for Women and Child Welfare (UCOBAC).

This blog originally appeard on the Observer on July 22, 2014.