Owning land has offered me a taste of good life

Land ownership gives women options of using it to generate income. Naini Edward from the Partimbo area of Tanzania's Kiteto district within Manyara says her 20 acres have helped her build a brick house and get money to meet family needs.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • In 2020, Naini received a certificate giving her rightful ownership of some 20 acres her husband allocated her.
  • Of the 20, she farms five and leases out the rest; besides growing maize and sunflower, she has 70 cows, 50 goats and sheep.

This is the second and last instalment of indigenous women and men’s struggle to remain climate resilient amid landlessness.

Rains! Anytime dark clouds gathered, Naini Edward sank into anxiety.

“I feared the rains,” says Naini, a pastoralist Maasai woman in the Partimbo area of Tanzania's Kiteto district within Manyara, a region in the north-eastern part of the country.

She was married four decades ago into a polygamous family and in those years, the onset of rains was the start of a season of anxiety, strain and sleepless nights.

“I lived in a mud house. Whenever there was a downpour, the wall would get soggy and collapse,” says Naini, the second of three wives.

“You'd want to sleep but the fear of the house collapsing on you would keep you awake. I'd repair it over and over again, and the whole exercise was emotionally and physically draining.”

Her life changed last year. Now, she looks forward to the rain. Sadly, the seasons have become shorter and unpredictable, she says. Naini says they would have long rains from February to June, a season that now starts in March or early April and ends in May.

So what happened?

In 2020, Naini received a Certificate of Customary Right of Occupancy (CCRO) from Tanzania's Ministry of Land, giving her rightful ownership of the 20 acres her husband allocated her.

Her co-wives, too, got similar sizes of land and certificates. This followed a meeting where the husband accompanied them to a sensitisation forum organised by a local non-governmental organisation.

“They were taken through the benefits of allowing us our own land, livestock and proper houses. And that’s how he changed his mind,” she says.

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Of the 20 acres, she farms five and leases out the rest. Besides growing maize and sunflower, Naini has 70 cows, 50 goats and sheep.

Last year, she took a loan of Tsh1.5 million(Ksh86,335) using her CCRO as collateral. She used the money to build a three-bedroom brick house.

“My new house fills me with so much joy. I feel like I'm living a life now. No fear of the rains, no fear of a collapsing house and no stress of fixing a house daily. And no struggle to feed my five children. I have enough to eat and sell,” she says.

In a good season, she harvests 40 bags of maize and 10 bags of sunflower. This year, she sold a 90-kilogramme bag of maize at Tsh80,000 (Ksh4,604). And Tsh40,000 (Ksh2,302) for a bag of sunflowers.

A 2018 document by the Food and Agriculture Organisation elaborates on the benefits of land ownership for women. That women who own land and have full control over it lift their families from food poverty. They also create structures to prevent losses from heavy rains or the harm extreme cold and heat brings about, it says.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recognises the Maasai as an indigenous pastoralist community in Tanzania alongside Barabaig.

It also includes the hunter-gatherer communities of Akie and Hadzabe in the list of the indigenous peoples, described as “inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment”.

While both the pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities practise communal land use, women in the latter communities have equal access to land than the former, explains Makko Sinandei, who founded Ujamaa-Community Resource Team (UCRT) in 1994 to improve the lives of pastoralist, agro-pastoralist, and hunter-gatherer communities in northern Tanzania.

“For the Hadzabe whose women wield power over men, communal land ownership gives them power over land use. For them, the land is owned by the entire community and everyone has a right to it. The women gather food without restrictions,” he says.

“It’s, however, different for the pastoralists. Land is owned communally, but when it comes to use, men restrict women.”

But Naini’s new status is proof that something is changing, thanks to awareness prompting change in men’s attitudes and perceptions.

The organisation she mentioned earlier to have enlightened her husband is UCRT, which has since 2020 facilitated acquisition of 1, 500 CCROs for Maasai women in Kiteto and Simanjiro districts in the Manyara region.

Naini says 46 other women were issued with the certificates on the day she received hers. Just like other countries in the world, there are no official figures of indigenous women who own land, although the United Nations notes that they are more likely to be landless because of constant evictions from their ancestral lands for conservation and development. Neither are there laws that specifically address the indigenous peoples’ land issues.

Grim ownership picture

However, the World Economic Forum indicates that generally, women own less than 20 per cent of the world's land. In Africa, 13 per cent of African women claim sole ownership of land. And in Kenya, they own just 1.62 per cent.

Recently, there have been efforts by African governments and civil society movements to push for policies supporting women’s land acquisition. In March 2022, activists from 100 civil society organisations from Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Ethiopia launched a Stand for Her Land in Africa initiative.

Through it, the activists hope to see governments develop and implement policies protective of women’s land rights and mobilise men to remove customary barriers preventing women from accessing, owning and controlling land.

The initiative’s global advocacy director Esther Mwaura-Muiru says their advocacy has already borne fruit. “In Uganda, Karamojong traditional leaders have organised themselves to push for women land rights. In Senegal we are seeing religious leaders support the cause too,” she says.

In 2021, ministers responsible for land, gender, and women affairs in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda, signed the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Regional Women’s Land Rights Agenda (2021-30), a framework meant to accelerate implementation of the African Union (AU) declaration on land issues and challenges in Africa.

Twelve years earlier, heads of African countries made a declaration to strengthen security of land tenure for women, a target further reinforced in AU’s blueprint for change, Agenda 2063, adopted in 2013.

In the “master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future”, the AU aimed at having 20 per cent of rural women access and control land by this year, a target that hasn’t been reached. The blueprint is, however, silent on indigenous women’s land rights issues.

Legal loopholes

With this legislative gap, civil society organisations have opted to use the existing land laws to enable women own land and create programmes specific to addressing indigenous women’s land tenure issues. In Tanzania, for example, UCRT capitalised on the Village Land Act (1999), which allows individuals and communities to own land through CCROs.

According to Tanzania’s Ministry of Land, CCROs have proved to be effective in strengthening community land rights and securing both individual and communal lands.

Audace Kubwimana, Africa regional coordinator for International Land Coalition, a global alliance of more than 300 land rights civil society and intergovernmental organisations pushing for people-centred land governance, says women have thrived in countries where activists have successfully pushed for inclusion of indigenous peoples in development.

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In Namibia, for instance, consistent lobbying and advocacy has resulted in communal conservancies being established in areas where the indigenous San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba live.

In particular, in Nyae Nyae Conservancy, women are generating income of up to N$ 300,000 (Sh2.8 million) from handcrafted bracelets, earrings, necklaces and rings from locally sourced materials such as wood and ostrich shells. ILC members are guided by 10 commitments, two of which are specific to indigenous peoples and women.

“We have a commitment to secure territorial rights for indigenous peoples. But then we cannot look at the indigenous group as a homogeneous group. Women’s issues are very specific and that is why one of our commitments is very specific. It focuses on equal land rights for women,” he says.

UCRT’s achievement is part of their story. The organisation is one of the ILC’s 95 members from 28 countries on the continent. Audace, however, says much remains to be done to create a universally free environment for indigenous women to enjoy their land rights.

He says that as governments work towards achieving their Agenda 2063 targets, land rights advocates have to find new ways of engaging with them to ensure indigenous women are not left behind in access to land. With more indigenous women owning land, so will there be more of Naini’s story.

“Land has made me have a taste of a good life. I’m happy. I have enough resources to support myself and my children,” says Naini.

This story was produced with the support of Voice for Women and Girls' Rights - Kenya, a Journalists for Human Rights project.