Filling three needs with one deed: The call for land reforms

By ONE Policy Director Anita Okemini, ONE Policy Officer Fiona Robertson, and ONE Policy Manager Gabriele Simeone

Last year, almost half (47%) of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) came directly from Agriculture, a sector that employs a third of the population. Yet, the sector only receives 2% of the budget, lower than at the turn of the millennium.

This is short-sighted given the scale of this sector’s contribution to development. It is also a broken promise. The AU’s 2014 “Malabo declaration” which Nigeria signed, includes a commitment to spend at least 10% of the country’s budget on agriculture.

Of course, more money is not the only answer to boosting yields and income. Policy commitments need to be delivered too: strengthening systems to increase private investment into agriculture, reducing poverty through increasing women and youth participation in agribusiness, ending hunger, encouraging intra-Africa agricultural trade, among others.

But one area deserves special attention: land access and security promotes increased agricultural production, private investment in agriculture and the engagement of women and youth in agriculture. It is also an asset that people living in poverty can use to secure loans, and invest for the future.

Tough luck for Nigerian women who want to farm their own piece of land.

In Nigeria, women have limited access to land due to customary inheritance practices, which guide rural land ownership and access. Additionally, some cultures are highly patrilineal, with both the rights of land control and property going to the eldest son or, in the absence of one, to the brother, resulting in the complete deprivation of both wives and daughters from any form of land ownership.

While women wholly own 4% of arable land, men wholly own almost 90% of land. Specifically, women own an average plot size that is 10 times smaller than their male counterparts.

Tough luck for Nigerian women means tough luck for Nigeria. With 190 million mouths to feed, if we don’t solve the root causes of land access for women, we will not empower them with much-needed agricultural jobs and will exacerbate the food gaps for all Nigerians.

In Nigeria, legal ownership can only be granted by government authority (through what is called land titling). These systems are inefficient with bureaucrats overwhelmed with applications for a Certificate of Ownership (C of O). Usually only large tracts of land are signed off by the Governor, effectively barring the poor and unconnected. Only 3% of land has been registered thus far.

Women and children in Nigeria. (Photo credit: A. Fleuret/USAID)

Women and children in Nigeria. (Photo credit: A. Fleuret/USAID)

Against this backdrop, Nigerian rural women farmers asked the Heads of States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Enforce major reforms in land rights for women at regional level, and in each country under ECOWAS.

ONE supports this demand, and call on Nigerian leaders to:

  • Review existing land reform programmes: The Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reforms (PTCLR) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) have started this. This would help with determining best practices and how to make progress on women’s access to land.
  • Accelerate land registration processes: the President should kick-start a process for registration of land across Nigerian States, using technology to fast-track and ease the registration process, drawing on lessons from Rwanda and Ethiopia.
  • Deploy a tailored approach to local customs affecting women’s land ownership: joint titling of land in Rwanda and Ethiopia helped increase access to land for married women.
  • Educate Nigerians on women’s land rights: Targeted groups of women should be educated about their rights, and how to claim them to help eradicate cultural biases against women.

With just 13 years left before the 2030 SDG deadline, and the alarming increase in the undernourished population in Nigeria (up by 30% in the last 10 years), Nigerian leaders must act now to accelerate land registration and level the playing field between men and women rural farmers. Failing to do so will not only have food security and nutrition costs that Nigeria cannot afford, but will also undermine the much-needed jobs creation, of which Nigeria is in dire need. The economic opportunity that food systems offer to rural farmers is, in fact, unrivaled, as FAO estimates, the value of urban food markets in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow from US$150 billion to US$500 billion between 2010 and 2030, market shares that Nigerian leaders must take advantage of.


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