Translating legal rights into tenure security: lessons from the new commercial pressures on land in Ghana

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Since the confluence of the food and oil price crises of the mid 2000s, Ghana has become a prime destination for large-scale farmland investments. While this trend could make valuable contributions to an ailing agricultural sector, the alienation of rural land for commercial ends could conversely have far-reaching implications for customary land rights. Through an analysis of the legislation protecting customary land rights and governing such the alienation of those rights and by contrasting this with practice, this article highlights some of the fundamental challenges in translating legal rights into tenure security in contemporary Ghana. It shows that despite the legal recognition of customary land rights, in practice customary land users are ultimately responsible for contesting infringements upon these rights. With traditional authorities able to capture substantial rents from the alienation process and government institutions offering scant oversight as a result of fragmented responsibilities, capacity constraints, and political disincentive, the protection of customary land rights is becoming increasingly contingent on community ‘capacity to claim'. Since poor access to information, unrealistic expectations and deference to traditional authority tends to quell disputes over alienation, the limited mechanisms for protecting citizen access to resources gives reason to reconsider the importance of direct state involvement in the customary land domain.

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