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News & Events Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors
Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors
Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors
Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors
Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors

There are 278 smallholder farmers in Selama Kebele in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of western Ethiopia. On average, these farmers own 2 - 10 hectares of land. Smallholder farmer Abdulahi Mohammod, age 48, is one of them. To provide for his thirteen children and two wives, he cultivates 6 hectares of crops which include corn, sorghum, soybean and red peppers. With the earnings derived from his land he is able to meet his family’s basic needs, which includes paying school fees for seven of his children.

There are also 11 agricultural investors in the Kebele such as 61-year-old Abdulmohammod Ibrahim, who grows cash crops such as corn, sorghum and soybean on 250 hectares of land.

Despite the disparity of circumstances among local smallholder farmers and investors in the region, both actors require certain preconditions to fully benefit from their respective farmlands: Abdulahi and Abdulmohammod agree that dispute-free boundaries backed through Land Use Right Certificates are one of the key-prerequisites to be able to sustainably increase their agricultural productivity.

Before commencing agricultural development, investors must lease the land from the regional government which is providing Certified Land Use rights. Meanwhile, the majority of smallholder farmers cultivate land without official land use rights, such as Second Level Land Certification, which means that they suffer from insecure land use rights and tenure insecurity.

For smallholder farmers, land is traditionally passed down from one generation to the next without adhering to any legal transaction procedures. Consequently, overlapping farmland claims are common, as boundary demarcation and confirmation of use rights is only evidenced by word of mouth. This practice is ubiquitous among many sub-Saharan countries where only 10 per cent of the agricultural land is formally documented. These traditional and customary systems do not ensure formal land use rights, and disputes over boundaries and access to natural resources occur frequently. In Benishangul-Gumuz Region, such land disputes were further exacerbated through the government launching of the private agricultural investment project in 2010/11. Even if investors have well documented leases, these are not always strictly adhered to and illegal encroaching on smallholder farmland takes place. Inevitably, this will continue to lead to land disputes until and unless adjacent smallholders can also be provided with legal land use rights.

As insecure land tenure rights prevent long-term investments for both smallholders and investors alike, without formal land use rights, it is challenging to access necessary financing mechanisms such as loans to legally rent plots of land and to ensure legal ownership of the agricultural produce derived from the cultivated land. Hence, land tenure insecurity for smallholder farmers and investors directly translates into insecure livelihoods and inputs for downstream processes.

Solutions to mediate existing land disputes among smallholders and investors and to prevent future disputes are needed urgently. In this regard, the Support to Responsible Agricultural Investments project has been instrumental in addressing these issues. Since 2019, the project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in the Region with the aim of ensuring land access and benefits from responsible agricultural investments for smallholders and marginalized people.

To date, approximately 2000 smallholder households have had their land demarcated through the project and are waiting to collect their Second Level Land Certificates from the respective district offices. Abdulahi benefits from this Land Use Right Certificate already.


Smallholder Farmer Abdulahi Mohammod 48, cultivating sorghum on his land
Photo 1: Smallholder Farmer Abdulahi Mohammod,48,
cultivating sorghum on his land


“My land situation has improved compared to the one my father had. I now have a legal land use right; I do not have to fear boundary disputes with my neighbors; I can rent out my land; I can take out a loan and my children and wives also have inheritance rights.”


Land Use Right Certificates not only resolve and prevent conflicts, but they also serve as the means to boost confidence related to investment decisions. Investor Abdulmohammod believes that secured and documented Land Use Right Certificates make it easier to avert investment risks and mitigate boundary conflicts.


Commonalities between Ethiopian smallholder farmers and agricultural investors
Photo 2: Investor Abdulmohammod Ibrahim, 61,
inspecting and monitoring his sorghum field


“My land under cultivation was transferred to me by adhering to a thorough land identification, verification and certification procedure. Hence, claims occurring over the land can be resolved efficiently.”


Quarterly consultation meetings with smallholder farmers such as Abdulahi, investors like Abdulmohammod and government representatives are now organized by the districts and the regional Land Administration and Investment Bureau. The demarcation of land together with the consultations and the dialogue fora have become a gateway for cooperation: knowledge and technology is transferred, smallholders gain better access to certain inputs and investors are confident about investing in the long-term, as adjacent smallholder farmers guard their vast land and assets.

With the Second Level Land Certificate for his six hectares, Abdulahi experienced land tenure security for the first time; he is able to legally cultivate his land without any fear of the land being expropriated. In addition, he generates extra income by renting out land which he does not utilize.

Similarly, Abdulmohammod has gained confidence through community-investor dialogue fora and the support provided by community elders to invest in tree planting and undertaking conservation agriculture. The cooperation with smallholders is beneficial for Abdulmohammod since they protect the investment and are happy to work on his farm.

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Responsible Land Policy in Ethiopia


    Context Ethiopia is chronically food insecure and suffers significant food deficits each year. To tackle this challenge, the Government of Ethiopia strives to increase agricultural production, access to markets and employment opportunities. Investments in commercial agriculture are considered one of the key elements in advancing economic development and supporting the country in achieving food security. In the past, Ethiopia promoted foreign and domestic investment in large-scale farming and identified about 3 million hectares for commercial agricultural purposes. To facilitate economic development, the benefits of such investments need to be shared with local communities. However, achievements in this field remain limited and only a fraction of the land allocated was developed. Traditional land rights of local communities in rural areas remain inadequately documented and large-scale land allocations have often disregarded the rights of legitimate landowners. The struggle over resources between traditional landowners and investors led to a range of disputes and conflicts. The expectations of creating economic development and food security through large-scale land allocations for agriculture have not been met. In addition, government capacities on regulating investments and investor-community conflict management are limited. Agencies at all levels lack knowledge, structures and equipment to steer and monitor commercial agricultural land investments sufficiently. As a result, the rural population, and particularly women and marginalized groups, face great land tenure insecurity. To alleviate poverty and ensure food security in Ethiopia, it is thus essential to promote secure land tenure and responsible agricultural investments. Activities in Ethiopia The country module operates in three fields of activity: Improving Framework Conditions and Procedures: National and regional authorities in three regions will be sensitized and trained on institutional framework conditions and procedures to enhance land tenure security for the rural population. Strengthening the Civil Society: The civil society will be supported to contribute to the socio-political debate on responsible land policy through educational campaigns, training measures and awareness raising. Cooperation with the Private Sector: Private sector actors will be advised and capacitated in exchange fora with communities and trainings on effective land management, to deliver on environmental and social commitments. An example from the field The country module Ethiopia of the Global Project Responsible Land Policy is a continuation of the project “Support to Responsible Agricultural Investment” (S2RAI) implemented on behalf of the BMZ and with financial support from the European Union from March 2016 until June 2019 and thus capitalizes on previous lessons learned and products developed. Some of the main achievements include a digital land investment management and monitoring system (CAMiS), the development of contract templates, monitoring guidelines as well as the Guidelines for Social and Environmental Practices of Responsible Commercial Agriculture in Ethiopia (SECoP). Additionally, S2RAI supported the decision to redefine ceilings for agricultural investments from 1 million ha to 1,000 ha for domestic and 3,000 ha for foreign investors. Through strengthening of the organizational development of land institutions, awareness raising and capacity building the social and ecological performance of investors is now monitored. Both, the monitoring system as well as the SECoP guidelines have been taken up into the national strategy for commercial agriculture by the Ethiopian government. Furthermore, almost 80% of lease agreements have been reviewed. As a result, agreements covering about 70,000 ha were ended. In addition, investor-community dialogue fora, implemented by a local NGO, led to amicable land dispute resolutions and joint planning for the future. The project harmonized its efforts with other development interventions, such as thematically relevant GIZ projects and other donor projects in the context of land tenure, land use planning, land allocation and certification.   Impact stories