Thursday, January 20, 2022

When Will Land Disputes Be Addressed?


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This column is devoted to monitor and report on issues that relate to production, processing, preservation and marketing of agricultural produce aimed at ensuring food security in the Gambia as well as the interventions of Government and Non-governmental Organizations in this regard.

Agriculture remains both a new and old source of national revenue and (youth) employment.

Improved public awareness and discussion of the issues involved, will significantly maximize agricultural outcomes and the contribution of the sector to economic growth and job creation.

This is precisely the reason why Farmers’ Eye is critically looking at every Agricultural programme or policy, to gauge whether our Agriculture and Natural resources are properly harnessed to ensure food self-sufficiency.

In the last editions we started dealing with the constraints in the Agricultural sector and in this edition, I shall highlight the major constraint which is land as land is key to Agricultural production and Land disputes are on the increased particularly at this time of the year as the rain season is fast approaching.

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Land types are divided into three categories in the Gambia: freehold land, customary tenure, and leasehold land. The idea of freehold land tenure was derived from the historical precedent of the British system. This system gave out freehold grants of lands for various reasons to individuals and companies. Freehold land tenure is when individuals own the land outright, and the government cannot interfere with how the land is allocated and used.

Customary land tenure system originated from rules encompassed in Sharia Law and cultural practices.

The customary land tenure system is practiced in the provincial areas. Historically, in this system, the first person to step foot on unclaimed land in the Gambia became the owner of that land. Consequently, the person who claimed the land became the de facto “Alkalo” and the regulator of the property. The land is then recognized as inheritance land, and can be passed on from generation to generation. Such land is generally used for subsistence farming for the family and tribal clan, and can be rented out to tenants.

Leasehold land tenure system is “an arrangement under which the landowner gives the land to someone else to use temporarily in return for rent.” The land owned by the government of Gambia can be leased for a maximum of 99 years, according to the 1990 Lands Act.

With stipulations, the tenant pays rent to the government to live and uphold for the timeframe identified on the lease. The lease is prepared by the Department of Lands and Surveys, which falls under the Regional Administration and Lands.

The Ministry of Local Government & Lands becomes the landlord of the premises by legally signing the lease. The administrative fees to transfer and register the land are given to the central government. The cost for each land transfer is dependent on the size of land. Tenants must build on the land within two years from the initiation of the lease. The state has the power to repossess and reallocate land to another person if these conditions are not met.

Some villagers who receive temporary allocation of land for farming, especially during the rainy season between March and October, assume they are given the land on a permanent basis. This assumption causes conflict between the legal owners and the temporary farmers.

Furthermore, the constant change of Alkalos and poor record keeping practices created other issues. Because record keeping is informal, sometimes land records are lost or misplaced, causing mix-ups when identifying the rightful owner of each plot. When court orders are issued for nonresidents to vacate the land, some residents still stay. Therefore, court cases regarding land disputes are drawn out in Gambian Courts where Alkalos and residents fight for the land title.

Proof of ownership can be proven by any of the five ways:-

1) traditional evidence;

2) production of documents of title;

3) acts of the person claiming the land;

4) acts of long possession; and

5) proof of possession of connected or adjacent land.

Before an informal record keeping process was implemented, Alkalos and tenants conducted land transactions through word of mouth. Because paperwork documenting the rightful owner of the land was not historically recorded, owners have a hard time proving their legitimate rights to the land.

Previously, Alkalos had the reputation of providing resources to ensure their villages prospered.

Now Alkalos have the reputation of wanting to make money by reselling land that belongs to other tenants by issuing counterfeit leases.

This is known as double allocation of land, with Alkalos illegally selling one plot of land to two to three different people.

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