Documenting Customary Resource Rights Reconciling State and Customary Records for Land-Use Planning: Sandwe Chiefdom, Zambia

Published in: Annual World Bank Land and Poverty Conference

Zambia possesses a dual land tenure system of customary and state land, with very few structures for communication between the state and customary land administration authorities. The majority of Zambia’s rural landmass is managed by traditional authorities through an informal and undocumented land administration system, while the state system is largely absent in these rural areas. There is growing recognition of the importance of documenting rural customary land rights to provide long-term tenure security to households in these customary areas. These approaches recognize the customary rights of traditional leaders to administer land, including offering documents to landholders. The documentation of customary land, however, brings with it some risks to current landholders and has the potential to ignite latent conflicts. Within most of these chiefdoms there are pockets of land that is ostensibly state land, but which is de facto under community/customary control, for example resettlement camps, forgotten forest reserves, and pre-colonial titled farms. Additionally, the state has management rights over all forest and wildlife, even on customary land, particularly in vast game management areas. Given Zambia’s irreversible process for conversion of customary land to state land and the vast areas within limited state presence, many of these statutory rights are latent, and in some cases are unknown to government. The documentation of customary rights in this context will raise these latent claims and has the potential for government to reassert tenure rights over these areas and resources. In some cases, these rights reflect the underlying ownership or leasehold of land (e.g. abandoned farms, or state forest land) in other cases the overlapping rights may be related to customary ownership of land, but government management of resources (e.g. game management areas). This paper will describe the process that USAID’s Tenure and Global Climate Change Project is undertaking across a 200,000+ hectare chiefdom to systematically document customary rights, while navigating relationships and agreements with a variety of Ministries and Departments to clarify customary rights across a range of overlapping customary and statutory tenure systems. Consideration of these overlapping rights on customary land will inform the approaches that government uses moving forward to secure the customary rights of rural communities in Zambia. The paper also considers how the data from ground up customary mapping can interface with government efforts to undertake a land audit and where there are differences with state land records that can form the basis of participatory land-use planning.

Key Words: Communal Resources; Participatory Mapping; Participatory Land Use Planning; Customary Rights