The Link Between Land Justice And Food Security: What We Need To Know

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By Gloria Acayo

Land in Uganda is a critical factor of production and an essential pillar of human existence and national development as it is at the heart of economic, social and democratic transformation especially for rural poor communities whose livelihoods and well being are dependent on it. Land in Uganda as in many traditional societies is not a mere commodity, but an essential element critical to the enjoyment and realization of many human rights as it is a form of identity—tied to social and cultural rights, an important resource for livelihood, the basis of income, and sustenance for the majority of Ugandans.

In Uganda Agriculture a sector that predominantly depends on land resources dominates the country’s economy, and accounts for 80% of export earnings and an estimated 80% of employment nationwide. Approximately 87% of Uganda’s estimated 35 million people reside in rural areas. According o the 2016/17 National Labour Force Survey (NLFS) by UBOS, 81.3% of the rural population and 29% of the urban population in Uganda are directly employed in agriculture. This makes land the most valuable resource in Uganda.

In the recent past, the economic significance of land has been a source of conflicts and insecurity in Uganda mostly triggered by the changing patterns of land use including increased demands for land for investment, population growth, increased demand for food and biofuels, tourism, urbanization, nature conservation, mining, and climate change increase pressure on land and other development projects.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission in its 2017 report noted that “whereas this is a global concern, the problem of land disputes is more manifested in developing countries, where in addition to increasing population density, there is a global rush for acquisition of land by multinational corporations, with the aid of governments, for various forms of investments.” The effect of this is two fold: the merchantability of land has increased, enticing more people to buy or sell land or plots even as there has been a surge in land fraud and conflicts. Family land wrangles, land grabbing, illegal evictions and many other forms of land fraud and corruption have become common. The hill justice needs in Uganda report 2016 ranked land justice problems as the second biggest group of justice problems in Uganda at 36% behind family conflict at 37%. It is clear that land wrangles have become the order of the day with an increase in illegal evictions, land grabbling and violent clashes that results in deaths and other criminal acts.

To address land conflicts, the legal and policy framework in Uganda provides for an elaborate land justice system. These ranges from the LC courts, the district land tribunals, the courts of judicature and subordinate courts. The regulations provide for procedures to be followed in accessing justice from all these institutions. In addition to responses and hearings, land adjudication requires the judicial officer to visit the locus before disposing off a land matter. It is at the discretion of the judicial officer to decide on the number of times he or she visits the locus. Unlike the courts of judicature, the LC courts are available and easily accessible. The district land tribunals on the other hand have since been non-functional even when they have been recognized in the legal framework creating a gap in accessibility to justice. As the government rethinks of reinstituting the land tribunals, what has been silence about the land tribunals is how accessible, affordable and reliable they would be to the people.

The efficiency of the justice system is characterized as low with an average total time in following up cases ranging from 6.5 months in the customary system, through 13 months in the local council courts to 38months and above in the magistrate’s court . In terms of efficacy (measured in terms of completion success rates) the justice system is described as low reported below 50%.

This triangulates with the national statistics reporting the bulk of case backlogs under the civil division to be associated with land and the majority of the backlogs in the criminal division too being associated with land. The Justice Law and order sector annual report 2017/18 reveals that land disputes comprise a large proportion of the civil case backlog and also contribute to several criminal cases like murder, arson, assault and trespass. Of the 31,580 backlog cases as of June 2018, at least 16, 819 were related to land. Further the report 2017/18 reveals that in the financial year 2017/18 the land division of the high court had 19,990 cases of which 13,761 had been carried forward, 3,171 where disposed off showing a clearance rate of 50.9% and a disposal rate of 15.9%.

The Most land conflicts in Uganda include at least one of the following: boundary disputes, conflicting claim of inheritance, fraudulent transactions, encroachment on conserved land, multiple claims over same land, illegal evictions and compensation dispute among others. In most cases affected persons are not able to access quick effective and fair responses to resolve these land disputes. Access to land justice thus becomes a requisite mean to combat many human rights violations including right to food hence promoting food insecurity and malnutrition. This warrants the need to start up discussions on the nexus between land justice and food security.

The debate on land in Uganda is dominated within the context of land governance with specific focus on land rights, tenure security to guarantee ownership, use and control. Insignificant discussion are geared towards land use and land use planning particularly for agricultural sector as a measure of promoting efficiency and effectiveness looking beyond scale to productivity. Whereas productivity declines with glaring observable and statistical evidence, development on land has been effected without adequate planning which has not impacted on agriculture alone but food security and the broader development index. Uganda has one of the world’s fastest growing populations with a growth rate of 3.3% per year. The population is expected to hit 50million mark by 2023, with the majority of the population still living in rural areas directly deriving their livelihoods from agriculture.

This puts great pressure on the agricultural sector to meet the food and fiber needs of the growing population amidst the existing changing land use and land conflict. As land conflict and case backlog increases, the impact of this has affected food security. Most times cases that end into court systems warrant injunctions to preserve the status quo, these injunctions come with the need to stop any use of land including food production hence leaving the parties unable to produce food for immediate consumption or the mere future.

“Justice delayed is justice denied; it is within every person’s interest to witness justice being presided over Land rights to guarantee productivity on land”.