Ghana

An image of the country's flag.

Ghana is located on the Guinea Coast of West Africa. Its economy is based on agriculture (accounting for one-third of the GDP), gold and cocoa. The vast majority – 68% – of Ghana’s land is used for agriculture and 15% of it is used as permanent natural pastures.

Ghana is characterized by a pluralistic legal system in which customary and statutory systems governing land overlap. The great majority of land in Ghana is held informally, under customary tenure systems. The government and its major donors commenced a large-scale land reform project in 2003 in the hopes of establishing a fair and efficient process for registering land, building capacity in institutions, harmonizing statutory and customary law and improving land-dispute resolution in Ghana.

Mining and biofuel cultivation have recently contributed to land conflicts in the country. Mineral exports constitute 30% of total exports, make up 5% of Ghana’s GDP and constitute nearly 4% of the national government’s revenues. However, mining has created disputes between local communities, corporations and the government because of environmental damage, relocation of inhabitants and breaches of concession agreements. Investment in biofuels has grown in recent years, raising a number of issues pertaining to land rights.

KEY ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERVENTIONS

Although donors have made substantial investments in the land and resource sectors in Ghana in recent years, additional donor support in strengthening land tenure and property rights in the following areas would help Ghana achieve more broadly based economic growth, reduce poverty and increase agricultural productivity. Donors might consider the following interventions:

  • Address tension between customary and formal land rights regimes. Ghana is characterized by a pluralistic legal system where customary and statutory systems overlap. Almost 80% of land in Ghana is held under customary tenure. Donors could support Ghana’s customary land tenure systems by partnering with the Land Administration Project to build the capacity of local customary land secretariats to manage land issues at the village level.
  • Ensure uniform observation of legal protections associated with compulsory acquisition. Not only is the state acquiring stool land (land controlled by chieftaincies or other customary authorities) through compulsory acquisition, but chiefs are facing increasing incentives to alienate land from their lineages, making their subjects more vulnerable and insecure. Donors could: support programs to sensitize chiefs and their communities about the future impact of land transfers; work with communities and government to clarify land rights; ensure the transparency of land transactions; and improve access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Such efforts could prevent loss of land by small farmers and other community members who depend on secure land access.
  • Support women’s land rights. While women’s rights to own and inherit land are protected under law in Ghana,in reality their customary rights to land are insecure and they cannot in practice own land. Donors could assist the government by piloting projects to implement women’s rights through legal education, and land-based programs targeting women.
  • Secure formal acknowledgement of pastoralists’ rights. Ghana does not have a Pastoral Charter as do neighboring countries Mali and Burkina Faso. Land scarcity and farmer-herder conflicts have made the Government of Ghana increasingly hostile to pastoralists. Donors could convene a dialogue on pastoral land rights and the role of pastoralism in Ghana’s economy and encourage legal clarification of the relative rights of pastoralists and farmers. Donors could also support efforts to improve access to fair dispute resolution for conflicts between land owners and pastoralists.
  • Address tension between rights to land and rights to natural resources. Rural peoples’ land and property rights are increasingly violated by entities that exploit natural resources without consulting or compensating holders of legal rights. For example, mining and timber companies can be granted rights to privately-held or stool land, restricting the owners’ land use and, in the case of mining, causing the owner to be displaced. This insecurity of local land rights is creating conflicts and destroying livelihoods. Donors could work with the government to: clarify and resolve conflicting and overlapping resource tenure rights; clarify institutional jurisdiction and authority over these rights; and develop stronger and more broad-based access to effective dispute-resolution regarding conflicts between rights to land and natural resources.

SUMMARY

Ghana is located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Its economy is based on agriculture (accounting for one-third of the GDP), gold and cocoa. The vast majority– 68% – of Ghana’s land is used for agriculture and 15% as permanent natural pastures. Nearly all agricultural land in Ghana is rain-fed.

Ghana’s land is governed by a pluralistic legal system in which customary and statutory systems overlap. Most of Ghana’s land is held under customary tenure and is vested in chiefs, earth priests (who hold spiritual authority over land matters because of their role as the descendants of the first village settlers) or other customary authorities. Approximately 20% of land in Ghana is officially owned by the state, although this number only includes land that the state acquired legally.

Community members access customary lands through their male lineage, and “strangers” (migrants or foreigners) access these lands through the acknowledged community holder of the lands (usually the chief or earth priest). Privately held land is acquired through purchase from the owner. In urban areas, privately held land is acquired through purchase. Customary land can be categorized as allodial title (the highest possible interest in land), customary freehold title, leasehold, or sharecropping (or abunu/abusa) arrangements. While women have legal rights to own and inherit property, in practice under customary law they gain use-rights through their husbands or fathers and do not themselves own land.

The Constitution vests all public land in the State, and all customary land in stool and skins (customary authorities or cheftaincies) families and lineages. Stool and skin land is held in trust for the stool’s community, including their ancestors, living members, and future generations. The State Lands Act grants the President the executive power to acquire land in the public interest, and delineates the procedures for compulsory acquisition of land. The Land Title Registration Act lays out the responsibilities and powers of land registries in Ghana as well as the appropriate manner for registration, and upholds the government’s ability to compel registration of property. The Constitution prohibits foreigners from owning land in Ghana and limits them to leaseholds of no more than fifty years.

The land administration system is currently under reorganization as a part of the Land Administration Project, which is financed by several international donors. The Lands Commission was established in 2008, and brought several previous land related agencies under one roof to streamline services and improve efficiency. Those agencies became the Land Registration division; the Public and Vested Lands Management division; the Survey and Mapping division; and the Land Valuation division.

The land market is plagued by a lack of accessible information and data, and property registration in Ghana is very complex. Sixty-five percent of Accra’s population cannot afford to purchase urban land.The frequency of land disputes is high, and land disputes are the most common cause of violent conflict. In rural areas ciefs manage disputes arising from customary law. Community tribunals established by the 1993 Courts Act also settle civil disputes, including land claims. Increasing land scarcity, urbanization, and population growth are creating pressure for local authorities to alienate land to developers and urbanites in peri-urban Ghana. Pastoralists are experiencing similar pressures as the amount of land available for pasture is decreasing due to development.

Statutory laws governing rights to water, forests and minerals have replaced and/or augmented customary rules. The Government of Ghana’s 1996 Water Resources Commission Act vests ownership of all water in the State, which is also responsible for the control and management of water resources. Similarly, the State owns all minerals, and the State has full authority to occupy and use land for mining. The stools own timber trees, yet the Concession Act of 1962 vested all timber trees to the President to administer in trust for the stools.

Published / Updated: July 2013

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