Tenure Insecurity, Gender, Low-Cost Land Certification and Land Rental Market Participation in Ethiopia


Holden, Stein T., Klaus Deininger, and Hosaena Ghebru. 2011. “Tenure Insecurity, Gender, Low-Cost Land Certification and Land Rental Market Participation in Ethiopia.” Journal of Development Studies 47 (1): 31–47. doi:10.1080/00220381003706460.

Authors: Stein T. Holden , Klaus Deininger, Hosaena Ghebru


There is a renewed interest in whether land reforms can contribute to market development and poverty reduction in Africa. This paper assesses effects on the allocative efficiency of the land rental market of the low-cost approach to land registration and certification of restricted property rights that was implemented in Ethiopia in the late 1990s. Four rounds of a balanced household panel from 16 villages in northern Ethiopia are analysed, showing that land certification initially enhanced land rental market participation of (potential) tenant and landlord households, especially those that are headed by females.



“An important policy issue is whether land reforms can contribute to enhancing the allocative efficiency and therefore augment the productivity and poverty reduction effects of land rental markets (Otsuka, 2007; de Janvry et al., 2001; Holden et al., 2008). Besley (1995) and Brasselle et al. (2002) identified three main types of effects that could contribute to enhanced investments, land productivity and land market activity related to land reforms. These are the assurance (tenure security), realisability (gains from trade) and collateralisation effects. The main novel contribution of this paper is to provide a rigorous assessment of the impact of the recent low-cost land registration and certification reform in the Tigray region in Ethiopia on land rental market activity. In Ethiopia, we may ignore the collateralisation effect as land sales and mortgaging of land remain illegal, but the first two effects may be important given that past policies created tenure insecurity and suppressed land transfers. About 50 per cent of the households in our baseline survey in 1998 feared they would lose land in redistributions they expected would occur in the future.” (32)

“Female heads of household (widows, divorced and single women) also received certificates in their name for land in their possession. Traditionally, women move to the home of the husband upon marriage, the husband is in charge of land management and only men can cultivate with oxen. Female-headed households therefore face problems with land management and therefore commonly rent out much of their land (Ghebru and Holden, 2008). Their relatively weak position makes their tenure more insecure because of their limited ability to till the land (drawing on a ‘land to the tiller’ philosophy) and the demand for land by (male) in-laws and blood relatives. The receipt of land certificates is likely to have strengthened the position and ability of female land possessors to rent out land without risking the loss of possession. We develop a theoretical model which shows that asset poverty enhances and tenure insecurity suppresses female landlord households’ land renting, but that land certification strengthens tenure security and should enhance such activity.” (32)

“The Ethiopian land reform in 1975 made all land state land, eliminated the wealthy rural landlord elite, and prohibited land sales and rentals and hiring of labour (Rahmato, 1984). Based on a ‘land to the tiller’ ideology, communities (peasant associations established by the new regime) distributed land to households based on their family size (their need and ability to cultivate), creating an egalitarian land distribution that required follow-up redistributions to maintain the egalitarian distribution and provide land to new households. However, such redistributions created tenure insecurity which was thought to undermine investment incentives (Alemu, 1999; Holden and Yohannes, 2002; Deininger and Jin, 2006). Households that rented out their land feared losing it in the next redistribution.” (33)

“After a long civil war, the military government was overthrown and a new government was formed in 1991. Eritrea succeeded in achieving independence and a more market-friendly policy was introduced in Ethiopia. Some political and administrative authority was devolved from the federal to the regional governments; in the case of land policies, a new federal land proclamation was introduced in 1995 and regional land proclamations were made at times subsequently allowing some local variation in land laws (provided they did not violate the federal land law).” (33)

“Even though the 1975 land reform in Ethiopia contributed to an egalitarian land distribution, land rental markets have been very active and are dominated by sharecropping arrangements (Teklu and Lemi, 2004; Holden and Ghebru, 2006; Bezabih and Holden, 2006; Pender and Fafchamps, 2006; Deininger et al., 2008b; Tadesse et al., 2008). Ghebru and Holden (2008) found the land rental market in Tigray to be characterised by substantial transaction costs and asymmetries in market access due to the rationing of tenants by landlords. Many actual and potential tenants failed to rent in as much land as they wanted to (Ghebru and Holden, 2008). A large share of the contracts was among kin and kinship relations, appearing to improve access to rentable land (Holden and Ghebru, 2006). In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, Deininger et al. (2008b) also found evidence of high transaction costs in the land rental market, as did Tikabo et al. (2007) in Eritrea. 

In this context, whether registration and certification has contributed to increased tenure security, especially for the poor, including women, are important policy concerns. Anecdotal evidence from Tigray (Haile et al., 2005; MUT, 2003) suggests that women think differently than men about their land certificates as their tenure rights have been less secure; this may imply that certificates have a greater welfare- enhancing effect on women. Furthermore, cultural rules constraining women’s ability to cultivate their land means that single women need to depend on assistance from men, or they must rent out their land. This cultural taboo means that female- headed households in Tigray are often landlords because they are poor in non-land resources (MUT, 2003). Certification may have strengthened the bargaining power of female-headed households in the land rental market, reducing their poverty.” (34)

Topics: Economies, Poverty, Gender, Land Tenure, Governance, Households, Rights, Land Rights Regions: Africa, East Africa Countries: Ethiopia

Year: 2011

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