Diminishing Status of Land Rights of Communities in Dry Lowland Areas and Their Implications: The Case of Ethiopia

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Dryland areas occur in both the highlands and the lowlands of Ethiopia and cover over 60 % of the country's land mass. They support pastoralist, agro-pastoralist and hunter-gatherer communities, and their long-standing institutions to manage local resources on a fairly equitable basis. However, this autonomy has been significantly eroded by successive governments' policy of agricultural expansion and modernization, driven by the growing global demand for food and fuel. By reviewing historical trends and current statuses, this study attempts to identify the driving forces behind this fast-changing land use and its impacts on communities and resources. The review shows that government's generous land leases to national and global investors, encroachment by smallholder farmers from the highlands, state-initiated settlements of poor households, and individualization of the commons by some community members themselves have further undermined the already weakening customary tenure arrangements (which were never as clearly defined in the lowlands as in the highlands). The problem, however, needs to be seen against the constitutional rights of all citizens who want to be farmers to get land anywhere in the country. Unless these issues are addressed, indigenous communities will continue to be exposed to expropriation and unable to assert their rights in the face of more powerful actors. The chapter concludes by stressing the need to formulate and enact policies and legal frameworks to ensure the livelihoods of dry lowland communities in light of the mounting interests of multiple actors and of other stakeholders' rights and responsibilities as stipulated in the Ethiopian Constitution.

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