Farmers Ngunya Phiri and husband Daniel heads for home with a full load of cobs on their ox cart after harvesting maize cultivated under conservation agriculture in their field in Chipata district, Zambia. Photo: P.Lowe/CIMMYT
However, despite this abundancy new data shows that land access is of mounting concern for smallholders. 54 percent of Zambia’s land is under customary tenure, far less than the 94 percent often utilized in land policy documents, according to a new study. Customary land tenure refers to the systems that most rural African communities operate to express and order ownership, possession, and access, and to regulate use and transfer. Unlike introduced landholding regimes, the norms of customary tenure derive from and are sustained by the community itself rather than the state or state law.
Of this available land, most populations are clustered in just 5 percent that has reasonably good market access conditions. These areas are often located in regions with high levels of rainfall variability due to historical infrastructure investments. In addition, these regions are witnessing a rapid increase in land commodification, land alienation and declining fallow rates.
The study concludes that land policy alone is not sufficient to cope with the mounting land constraints experienced by the majority of rural people in Zambia. Investments in infrastructure and services to improve market access conditions and climate change adaption capacity in Zambia’s remaining customary land is a necessity. Land and economic development policies must be attentive to changing dynamics in customary land areas in order to ensure the future viability of the smallholder farming sector.
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