Your Land, Your Right, and the need for Documentation

A concept often described as the foundation of the study of economics is scarcity. This inescapable problem exists when limited resources are unable to satisfy unlimited wants. One of such limited resources is land. The ever-increasing rate of population due to improved health service delivery and high level of urbanization has resulted in a corresponding increase in demand for limited urban and rural land for various purposes. This phenomenon, coupled with undocumented land rights, has led to instances where a single piece of land is sold to multiple buyers, boundary disputes, and outright disregard for a person’s land use and/or ownership rights.  In many rural communities, land rights holders usually experience dispossession and eviction from their land in the absence of evidence of their ownership and use rights. Mr. Manu[i] was one of the callers to our monthly sensitization sessions on ADOM TV’s Pampaso earlier this year. Let us take a look at his issue, as it reinforces the importance of documentation of customary land rights.

In 2000, Mr. Manu went into a share cropping agreement with a land owner over a 10-acre land on which he cultivated orange. However, this agreement was undocumented. According to Mr. Manu, small scale mining known in the Ghanaian parlance as galamsey is prevalent in the community, and the crude methods used by some illegal miners have affected orange farming to the extent that the productive life of orange trees has fallen drastically to about 10 years. After the productive life of the tree has ended, the farmers would have to replace the old trees.

Mr. Manu’s grantor has recently asserted that, should the trees die off at any point in time, their agreement will be terminated, and Mr. Manu will be expected to vacate the land. This assertion, however, contradicts their initial verbal agreement made in 2000. At this point, it will be difficult for Mr. Manu to avoid being entangled in a protracted land dispute, which in most cases are very costly and time consuming. In the worst case, he could eventually lose his rights to the land entirely.

 Mr. Manu’s experience, which many other Ghanaians also face, highlights the need to improve the land right documentation process in Ghana. As in most developing economies, land rights documentation in Ghana is more prevalent for lands acquired in urban areas but much less so for rural areas where land is normally acquired for agricultural purposes. In the absence of documentation, land users encounter unpleasant ordeals of unfair dispossession. This is because they do not have adequate evidence to support their claim of ownership of rights to the land when seeking legal redress.

Land rights documentation is very necessary as it details the parties involved in the agreement, provides a detailed description of the land in question, duration of the grant, and consideration paid. These documents are invaluable since they serve as proof of ownership of rights to the land. Additionally, they allow land right holders to claim appropriate compensation when their lands are affected by an acquisition. The documents can also be used to access financial services for productive and long-term investments, especially in agriculture.

Mr. Manu’s plight could have been better managed if the oral agreement he had with the landowner was supported with proper land right documentation.

[i] Names have been changed.

Papa Kofi