By Dipo Olowookere
A two-day seminar to sensitize African traditional leaders on the risks and opportunities of large-scale land based investments (LSLBIs) kicked off Wednesday in Accra, Ghana, with more than 50 traditional authorities and community leaders from across Africa.
Organized by the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), the event will equip traditional leaders with key principles for negotiating land investment deals that are sustainable and beneficial to African people and communities.
Mr Hubert Ouedraogo, lead land expert from the Land Policy Initiative Section of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), explained that the focus on traditional leaders is a strategic move.
“It is important to engage traditional leaders in such activities because land rights in most African communities are customary law based, and are governed by traditional institutions,” said Mr Ouedraogo.
Africa harbours an estimated 60 percent of the world’s arable lands but the continent is still a net importer of food and agricultural produce. Meanwhile, the continent’s youths are fleeing massively to Europe as economic migrants. These are clear indications that Africa’s rich land resources are not properly harnessed to meet the needs of its growing population and rapid urbanization.
Also, the need for developed countries to access natural resources critical to their economic competiveness and sustainability has fuelled increasing demand for African farmlands. This has resulted in a phenomenon of large-scale land acquisitions across Africa. Consequently, African governments are blamed for giving away the continent’s land resources at the expense of poor local communities.
Speaking at the opening of the seminar, Ghana’s minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Nii Osah Mills, said his country has established several customary lands secretariats – institutional structures to facilitate efficient and effective administration of customary lands.
“When the Ghana Land Policy was launched in 1999, a prime place was provided for capacity development of traditional authorities,” Said Mr. Mills. “ Under the Ghana Land Administration Project, Customary Land Secretariats are encouraged and supported by my ministry to enable customary landowners to have proper administrative structures to manage their lands.”
AUC’s representative, Laila Lokosang, also emphasized the importance of recognizing and protecting the customary based land rights of African people.
“If Africa is to feed its rapidly growing population, then land rights of African farmers, the majority of whom are smallholder farmers, need to be secured,” said Mr. Lokosang. “Protecting the customary based land rights of African people, including those of women, is a key determining factor for Africa’s development.”
Speaking on behalf of the Ghanaian National House of Chiefs, Nene Akuaku III described the seminar as a first-of-kind opportunity for traditional leaders.
“I understand it is first of its kind for traditional authorities to meet and deliberate on land issue. I will therefore entreat all of us to use this opportunity to share experiences learn and document lessons for future considerations.”
The seminar is part of several activities carried out by the LIP under the auspices of the AUC, AfDB and ECA, to provide guidance to African governments, traditional leaders and other stakeholders on how to make land related investments benefit local people and economies.
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