Land worries in the Lake Victoria region

Land-related conflicts and rapid urbanisation, combined with slow industrialisation, are causes for concern in the Lake Victoria region.
– New ideas and perspectives need to be developed, says researcher Opira Otto, who recently joined the Natural Resources cluster at NAI.

Workshop report, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, May 2013 (pdf opens in new window).

The Lake Victoria region consists of several countries with very different population dynamics. In some of the countries with a large population, like Rwanda and Burundi, land is very scarce, , while in others, like some parts of Tanzania and Uganda, there are large areas of land with few people.. Overall, the region has in recent decades seen a dramatic population rise and increased urbanisation. At the same time, increased globalization and penetration of cheap consumer goods from China and other transitional countries are working against a broadening of the region’s economic bases.

– Given these trends, conflicts over land and livelihoods are likely to increase in the region unless new ideas and perspectives on the land issue are developed, says Opira Otto.

National land laws and a strong belief in foreign investment are still the dominant perspectives with regard to land-people imbalances. One example of a new perspective is the sharing of land between countries in the region. For instance, people in extreme land shortage areas like Rwanda, Burundi, South Western Uganda and parts of Western Kenya could move to abundant areas in the region to cultivate much needed crops.

– Farmers without borders can be a solution to reduce extreme pressure on land in some areas of East Africa and an alternative to the current craze by large international investors taking control over land in the region. Regardless of their nationality, regional farmers will produce food for the region and also crops for export. That would be a regional solution to a regional problem, notes Opira Otto.

Another problem is that people, often the youth, abandon the countryside in the Lake Victoria region to live in the larger cities. Few of them end up better off. Many find themselves jobless and homeless, with a life of crime the only survival strategy.

– It is a challenge to get the youth to embrace farming and a life in the countryside. For this to happen, they need support. Governments must provide the necessary social conditions, but other actors such as the private sector and research institute have a role to play by providing inputs of capital, technology and new ideas, remarks Opira Otto.

In his work at NAI, Opira Otto will strengthen and further develop the networks of scholars researching joint solutions for the whole Lake Victoria region.

– I believe in cooperation between African and Nordic scholars. There is a lot we can do, but we need to strike the right code rather early.

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