Niger hosts forum on securing land rights in irrigated areas
On 7-8 May, in the town of Konni, Niger's Minister of Agriculture will chair a national forum on legal protection of land tenure in irrigated areas. The forum will be attended by representatives from government, regional and local authorities, local groups, the private sector and civil society, drawn from all eight regions of the country.
The participants in the forum will analyse the current challenges arising from socio-economic issues around land rights over existing and future irrigation schemes in Niger, and will seek a 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 is a subject of crucial importance to both rural communities and national authorities.
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).
This background, and the field experience which will be shared in panel discussions, will inform the debates which will take place at the forum. 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.
Conclusions and action points from the national forum (in French only)Communiqué final Mai 2014 [pdf].
Moussa Assoumane – UICN/GWI (firstname.lastname@example.org)
International Institute for Environment and Development
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London WC1X 8NH, UK.
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Notes to editors
Global Water Initiative (GWI) – The Global Water Initiative (GWI) in West Africa is part of a global programme of action-research and lobbying funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The programme is carried out at local, national and regional level by IIED and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea; it focuses on agricultural production linked to large dams and irrigation schemes. Its multi-stakeholder approach aims to support and to transfer responsibilities to small producers – both women and men – in order to place them at the centre of effective water management and food security policies with the aim of ensuring sustainable and secure livelihoods. More information is available from the GWI West Africa website.
IUCN – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assists in finding practical solutions to current environmental and development problems. Valuing and conserving natural resources, ensuring effective and equitable management of their use, and developing nature-based solutions to meet the challenges of the world’s climate, of food supply and development are some of the areas in which IUCN works. The union supports scientific research, manages projects across the world and brings together governments, NGOs, the UN and private enterprise with a view to generating policy, law and good practice.
IIED– The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).