NIGER : Securing land rights in irrigated areas

14 May 2014 | News story

A national forum on legal protection of land tenure in irrigated areas, chaired in the town of Konni on 7-8 May to analyse the current challenges arising from socio-economic issues around land rights in existing and future irrigation schemes in Niger. The aim was to seek consensus on recommendations to enable the government to pursue its ambitious strategy of investment in irrigation while at the same time respecting traditional rights and ensuring social harmony.

This forum brought together about 80 participants from eight regions of Niger and included representatives from: producer groups and cooperatives, traditional authorities, national and local authorities, government technical services, civil society organizations, technical and financial partners.

The main objective of this national forum was to promote a general awareness of the current situation of the management of irrigated land and make recommendations that help secure both the state and producers on public schemes to better ensure the achievement of food security objectives. The key recommendations included:

  • Following a review of land registry archives, formally register all existing AHA on behalf of the State as a matter of priority and ensure that they are included in the land register. To reduce the risk of losing land to third parties, farmers' land rights should also be secured in the future.
  • Accelerate the government decision-making process on the use of long-term leases (for owners) and the proposed use of contracts (for non-owners) for land in the Kandadji dam area, following validation and acceptance of this solution by the affected populations.
  • Revise legislation to reflect better the current land tenure context and secure the rights of the State and farmers. In particular, reviewing the Law on the Management of AHA and leases, and modernizing the texts on state ownership and the terms and use of state lands and communal and regional lands. Following the same logic, also review the content and terms of reference of contracts between the ONAHA and cooperatives and between cooperatives and farmers.

The Ministry of Agriculture through the National Office for irrigation schemes (ONAHA) , as the first state institution in charge of the management of irrigation schemes (AHA) in Niger , has seen fit to lead a national debate with all key stakeholders at all levels to discuss and propose possible consensus and sustainable solutions to problems encountered in the field relating to the management of irrigated land in Niger , and support the implementation of ' 3N Initiative and the agricultural component of Kandadji program.

The forum is organised by the Ministry of Agriculture through the Office National des Aménagements Hydro Agricoles (ONAHA), in collaboration with the Haut Commissariat à l’Aménagement de la Vallée du Niger (HCAVN), the Haut Commissariat à l’Initiative 3N, and also the Global Water Initiative (GWI) and its partners. It is co-funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Agence Française de Développement and the Government of Niger.

Protecting state investment and national development

Millions of dollars have been invested by the government of Niger in irrigation schemes since the 1970s, but without protecting this investment through the formal registration of the State’s rights over the land involved. These schemes form a significant element of the national sustainable development strategy and in particular for the realisation of national food security in the context of the 3N initiative (les Nigériens Nourrissent les Nigériens).

There is increasing competition between different stakeholders over land and natural resources in Niger: the causes include demographic change, the market in land, the growth in agricultural investment and the shrinking of arable land as a result of climatic factors and human intervention. In this context, some local communities are demanding that the State respect their customary rights over lands used for irrigation, given that these rights were not formally annulled when the irrigation schemes were set up.

Consequently, a number of legal claims have come to court in recent years and this may represent a serious threat to the productive management of the irrigation schemes and hence to the national development strategy.

Kandadji dam and long-term leases: an equitable solution?

National law also stipulates that there must be fair prior compensation for private property which is expropriated for public utility purposes, as is the case in the current project to construct the Kandadji dam in Tillabéri department. This project will displace 38,000 people, both those owning land and those simply farming land in the area, affected by the construction of the future reservoir which will cover 300 km².

In the specific case of the Kandadji Programme, the Haut-Commissariat à l’Aménagement de la Vallée du Niger (the High Commission for Planning in the Niger Valley - HCAVN) and the affected local populations are currently proposing the drawing up of an “emphyteutic lease” - a long-term lease which includes the right to sell, lend, or mortgage the plot concerned - to ensure that there is fair compensation for traditional land rights which will be lost as a result of the new scheme. This proposal was the outcome of a process of participatory debate and reflection.

This decision to opt for the “emphyteutic lease” at Kandadji will create an important precedent in terms of the protection of land tenure, which could have relevance elsewhere in Niger, as well as in other countries in West Africa. The pertinence of this legal solution is enhanced by the fact that it has been reached as the outcome of a long procedure involving multiple stakeholders, principally the government and local people affected by the development, but with support from experts and partners in the Global Water Initiative (GWI).

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