Credit: Jeff Walker / CIFOR.
Zambia’s population is largely rural and poor; most families make a living on subsistence farms with an average size of one hectare. Although the country’s economic growth in recent years has been strong (real GDP growth of 7.3% in 2012), boosted by a boom in copper mining, about 60 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line.
Agriculture employs an estimated 85 percent of the country’s workforce but, because of low productivity and other challenges, contributes only about 7 percent to GDP growth. Improved productivity on Zambia’s abundant arable land has been held back by a lack of investment in rural infrastructure, extension services, and research and development. Zambia’s smallholder farmers are further constrained by a lack of documented, secure land rights. Persistent rural poverty has contributed to a high rate of migration to urban areas.
Most rural land is held under customary tenure, which in Zambia means it is kept within the lineage, without a title deed, and families and individuals have private use rights that pass from generation to generation. Most of Zambia’s ethnic groups are matrilineal, with land passing through the female line to male family members who generally control land use.
Since enactment of the 1995 Lands Act allowing for conversion of customary land to leasehold (which grants a private lease to use State land), at least 10 percent of customary land has been converted for investment purposes. Many local people and investors regard tenure under the statutory system to be more secure than customary tenure. Large leaseholds, while creating new employment opportunities, sometimes cause local people to lose access to water sources, grazing land or forest products.
The First Draft Constitution of the Republic of Zambia, which is expected to be approved in late 2013, provides that land in Zambia is held by the President in trust for the people and that customary land – traditionally held dwelling places, agricultural areas, communal forests, grazing areas, shrines, etc. – is land delineated as such by the Parliament. The Draft Constitution would establish a Lands Commission with offices in all provinces and responsibility to “administer, manage and alienate land” on behalf of the President.