Land has played a critical role in Tanzania’s historic trajectory. Current land tenure frameworks, resource governance, and related conflicts are closely intertwined with current neoliberal policies and land accumulation by foreign companies and domestic elites as well as dynamics of the (pre-)colonial period[. Both German and British rule were formative in establishing current land sector rules and challenges, as has been the post-independence period. On the eve of independence in 1961, the British colonial government introduced freehold land ownership which was abolished by the independent government in 1963 and replaced by freehold titles. Instead, the first President Julius Nyerere (1966-1985) promoted the concept of “African Socialism” and implemented the ujamaa policy (Swahili for “collective production”).
Tanzania is seen as “East Africa’s food forte” and its rich natural resources as well as its policy drive towards commercial agriculture attract land-related investments, such as in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT)
A change of government led to a reversal and in this vein Tanzania’s first – and only - National Land Policy was established in 1995 which resulted in the enactment of the Land Act and Village Land Act in 1999.
In an effort to become a middle-income country by 2025 and reduce its aid dependency, the government identified in its National Development Vision 2025 a number of priority areas that include the agricultural, water, and energy sector. In a similar vein, Tanzania has invited foreign investors as a response to the globally rising demand in minerals and agricultural products. Together with the fact that more than one 38.2% of its total area is protected for conservation purposes, this has created a shortage of available land in rural areas. The commercialization of natural resources and the limited availability and accessibility of arable land have led to conflicts with local populations, environmental issues in sensible ecosystems, and increased human-wildlife conflicts.
Land legislation and regulations
According to the Land Act and Village Land Act of 1999 all land in Tanzania is public land under the trusteeship of the president. In 2011, the Parliament enacted the Constitutional Review Act and in 2014 the Constituent Assembly produced the Proposed Constitution with a chapter on land, natural resources,and the environment. However, the Proposed Constitution has not been enacted through a referendum and hence is non-binding. The Land Act of 1999 and the Village Land Act of 1999 provide the legal framework for land governance in the country. The Land Act has been amended eight times since it became operational in 2001, the latest in 2017. It provides laws concerning land management and dispute settlement to land other than Village Land.
Land is divided into three categories: Village Land, General Land, and Reserved Land. The often-quoted distribution of 70% Village Land and 28% Reserved Land has shifted as Village Land has either been converted into conservation areas, was transferred to General Land, or allocated to investors or used for urban settlement. The Land Act of 1999 provides the legal framework for General Land and Reserved Land. General Land includes all public land which is not Reserved or Village Land - often located in (peri) urban areas - and is administered by the Commissioner for Lands. Reserved Land is reserved for forestry, national parks, game parks and reserves, public utilities, or recreation. Reserved Land also includes land with natural drainage systems and land that was declared hazardous. Village Land generally means land within the boundaries of a village registered in accordance with the Local Government Act of 1982. The Village Land Act of 1999 and its regulations of 2001 govern Village Land.
Since 2016, the government is in the process of revising its National Land Policy of 1995 with the final draft awaiting Cabinet approval. The Draft National Land Policy 2016 highlights several major land issues associated with the delivery of cost-effective and accountable land administration services, including:
- a lack of dedicated funding, including limited cost recovery or revenue streams;
- a lack of trained staff;
- a lack of required mapping/geospatial information; and
- a lack of a coordinated strategy to share information and provide services at scale.
Land tenure classifications
The enactment of the Land Act and the Village Land Act in 1999 led to a twofold distinction of titles: customary rights of occupancy for Village Land and granted rights of occupancy for General Land. Under the Land Act, only the Ministry of Lands, through the Commissioner of Lands, has the authority to issue grants of occupancy. Landholders in urban areas are entitled to granted rights of occupancy for General Land, while most rural land is held under customary rights of occupancy. The Land Act and the Village Land Act are supplemented by the Land Registrations Act for regularization of registrable land titles, and the Land Disputes Courts Act, which provides for powers of special land courts.
Land use conflicts are common in Tanzania, ranging from conflicts between farmers and pastoralists and conflicts between smallholders and agribusiness investors to intra-village disputes. Other tenure-related challenges include a lacking protection of land rights, delays in village land use planning, land compensation, and a lack of reliable geospatial information. That said, weak governance at the local level has challenged tenure security as a result of limited capacities and resources, multiple reporting lines and decision-making procedures that often overlap. About 22% of the population feels insecure in their land and property. That said, tenure insecurity is highest among smallholders, pastoralists, and women.
Community, customary, and indigenous land rights
In pre-colonial times, all land was owned by the community. Under German Colonial rule (1891-1919) there were three types of land tenure: freehold titles created out of conveyance, leasehold granted by the emperor, and customary tenure for “natives”. British colonial rule (1919-1961) recognized existing German laws and put in place new land laws such as the Land Ordinance of 1923. After independence, freehold titles were converted into government leases and later rights of occupancy that were granted by newly established village councils.
Today, Tanzania’s legal framework recognizes customary land rights and grants those equal status to formal land rights. Customary tenure is defined as a right of occupancy. The Village Land Act distinguishes between Communal Land, Occupied Land, and Vacant Land. Based on local customary law, Village Land is managed by a Village Council elected by the Village Assembly, including issuing certificates of customary right of occupancy, and administering local land registers. Yet, all decisions regarding Village Land are made by the Village Assembly. The Village Land Council is responsible for mediating land disputes. Most councils and Participatory Land Use Management (PLUM) offices on district level - which define the utilization purpose (e.g. settlement, grazing, or agriculture) - do not function effectively and have a backlog of cases.
Maasai in Loliondo, 2008, photo by Vince Smith, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Notwithstanding its progressive provisions for customary rights and gender equity, the implementation process of the Village Land Act has been slow and uneven. Lacking financial resources add to overlapping roles and responsibilities and weak land administration. Pastoralists, in particular, continue facing tenure insecurity and are at risk of losing grazing land due to increasing pressure from other users, conservation efforts, or investors. Rooted in long-term structural marginalization and exclusion, this pressure results in increasing land use conflicts. Most recently, the ongoing conflict between the government which decided to acquire 1,500km² of land from 14 villages in Loliondo and Sale Divisions in Ngorongoro District and the affected pastoralist Maasai population sparked international concern.
Land use trends
Tea plantation, photo by CIFOR, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
In Tanzania, two thirds of the population live in rural areas. Agriculture, livestock, and fishing are important sectors contributing 26.7% to Tanzania’s GDP. The main export crops are cashew, tobacco, coffee, cotton, and sugar. Cassava, sorghum, paddy rice, bananas are the most common stable crops. About 83% of all holdings are family run with an average size of small farms of 1.2 hectares.
(Agro)Pastoralists raise livestock in different regions of the country. Researchers point out that there is a tendency towards sedentarization with adverse effects on the pastoral communities’ health status and livelihoods.
The East African country’s vegetation zones are characterized by northern and southern highlands, a central plateau, and 1,300km coastal plains. Being part of the Great Lakes Region, Tanzania has access to Lake Victoria, Nyasa, and Tanganyika, is home to eight river basins, and has substantial freshwater resources. Forests, woodlands, and savanna account for more than half of the country’s territory providing unique ecosystems and biodiversity. Between 2002 and 2021, the area of humid primary forest in Tanzania decreased by 4.4%, mostly through logging. In order to mitigate and adapt to climate change, protect biodiversity, and to reduce deforestation, reforestation programs play a key role. In 2021, the second phase of the Private Forestry Programme in the southern highlands was kicked off as well as the Restoring Africa’s Drylands programme.
The mineral sector is considered to have great potential in sparking growth and social transformation. Tanzania holds deposits in gold, diamonds, ruby, copper, nickel, iron, coal, natural gas, uranium, phosphate, tin, and others. However, there are many concerns about transparency and the adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts of mining projects in the country.
The Land Act and the Village Land Act lay out the processes of acquiring land. Once a village has acquired a Certificate of Village Land that requires demarcated land parcels and a land use plan, residents may apply for certificates of customary rights of occupancy. However, it is not mandatory for customary tenure to be registered and only few villagers hold certificates. Many village authorities do not fully understand the application process and villagers oftentimes remain unaware of their legal rights. In urban areas, residents can apply for certificates of rights of occupancy for 33, 66, or 99 years with a prove of tenure record and mapped boundaries. A person who can proof that he or she has occupied land informally for twelve years or more may acquire ownership by adverse possession, which then can be registered. This practice has been acknowledged by the courts of law.
The President can acquire or transfer any land from any category and change respective land use types at any time. With regard to acquisitions of village land for public purposes by the President, a notice must be sent to the Village Council describing the land sought and purpose of acquisition. Land can be acquired for a public purpose if it is an investment of national interest. Local residents through their Village Assembly are given 90 days to approve, refuse, or make recommendations. However, if the proposed acquisition exceeds 250 ha, residents can only provide recommendations for consideration. In cases of compulsory land acquisitions, the government can exercise its expropriation power. Land cannot be transferred unless the Village Council and the Commissioner for Lands have agreed on the type, amount, method and timing of compensation to be paid. The law provides for monetary compensation, which is based on the market value of land. Moreover, compensation must include a disturbance allowance and a transport allowance and reflect the loss of profit or accommodation, cost of acquiring the land, and other costs. Compensation must also reflect the loss or capital expenditure incurred while developing the land and include interest at market rate.
Tanzania is seen as “East Africa’s food forte” and its rich natural resources as well as its policy drive towards commercial agriculture attract land-related investments, such as in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). The most recent amendment to the Land Act includes mandates of the Export Processing Zone Authorities along with those of the Tanzania Investment Centre. According to the Land Matrix, the majority of land deals were concluded between 2008 and 2012 with sizes varying from 200ha to 42,000ha. Considering the size under contract, private investors and state companies from over 34 countries invested in food crops, agrofuel, forestry, livestock farming, and renewable energy. In most cases, the land was previously used by communities. Many biofuel projects were abandoned and, today, only two thirds of the concluded deals (266,000ha) are operating or in their start-up phase, half of which with in-country processing.
Foreigners in Tanzania cannot own land, they are only entitled to derivative rights of occupancy granted by the Tanzania Investment Center. Yet, some investors obtained land through direct negotiation with customary authorities or local governments and circumvented the statutory processes required to acquire land. Villages can allocate up to 250ha of land by entering joint ventures with investors through customary leases. Transfers exceeding this limit require not only the approval of the Village Council and Village Assembly but also the authorization of the Commissioner for Land. In this case, Village Land needs to be transferred to the category of General Land to make it available to investors. The legal framework remains vague in outlining this procedure that extinguishes all pre-existing land rights. If the land deal fails, the land cannot be reverted to Village Land. Although the Village Assembly needs to agree, villagers often feel pressured to do so by government officials and investors alike. Currently, the risks of land investments outweigh the benefits for rural Tanzania. Women participation in investment deals has been largely limited by patriarchal practices and the absence of legal requirements demanding women’s participation in the decision-making bodies at village level.
Women’s Land Rights
In 2021, President Samia Suluhu Hassan has declared to ensure women in Tanzania readily access economic rights and justice, including equal access and ownership to land. The country has committed to gender equality since the 1990s and Tanzania’s legal framework has taken steps to ensure equal enjoyment of land rights between men and women. Enactment of the Land Act and Village Land Act limits the applications of discriminatory customs and traditions, and attempts to address the historical injustice and discrimination suffered by female landholders. The Bill of Rights, as included in the constitution, and the Strategic Plan for Implementation of Land Laws provide additional protection for women. Furthermore, the Land Act and the Law of Marriage Act require that any spouse who wants to sell or mortgage matrimonial land must get consent of the other spouse.
Although more and more women receive customary title deeds, women in Tanzania continue facing inequalities related to access, control and management of land due to the persistence of strong discriminatory customs and traditions, lack of awareness of land laws at the local level, and the slow pace of law implementation. Moreover, plural inheritance laws, such as customary laws, Islamic law, and statutory law, creates room for gender inequalities in land ownership, use, and access.
Urban tenure issues
Urban resettlement, Dar es Salaam, 2012, photo by Development Planning unit University College London, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
For many years, Dar es Salaam has had one of the highest proportions of households in informal settlements in East Africa. Cities in Tanzania grow largely due to continuously high rates of rural-urban migration. More than 75% of urban residents live in unplanned neighborhoods where middle and low-income families live together. Although the government has implemented infrastructure and upgrading projects in order to improve transportation, access to water and sanitation services, tenure security remains low in informal settlements. In 2021, the government has launched a 5-year pilot scheme to enable and support landholders in informal settlements to survey their land and obtain titles. In more formal neighborhoods, the municipality is responsible for land transactions and purchases. Another area of concern are hazards, such as urban flood runoffs, in informally populated areas which will increase with rising climate change impacts and land cover changes in cities.
Land Governance Innovations
Tanzania endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure and agreed to align the National Land Policy which is its final stages of revision with FAO’s guidelines. The VGGT were translated into Swahili to make them available to a wider (local) audience. Moreover, the government invited FAO to provide support in implementing the new National Land Policy that is aligned with the VGGT. Together with other stakeholders the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Human Settlement Development identified the resolution of land conflicts through alternative approaches, land use planning and land-based investment as key areas for the VGGT implementation. In Morogoro region, the streamlining of responsible governance of tenure has resulted in the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform to improve intersectoral coordination and the promotion of responsible agricultural investments.
Timeline – milestones in land governance
1961 - Independence
African Socialism and Ujamaa Policy under Nyerere’s post-independence government.
1985 – Beginnings of land law reform
A change of government leads to the reversion of Nyerere’s course starting the revision of the legal land governance framework.
1995 - National Land Policy
Establishment of Tanzania’s first National Land Policy.
1999 - Enactment of the Land Act and Village Land Act
For the first time, customary rights are recognized and treated equally. The Village Land Act entails progressive provisions for gender equity and customary rights.
2008-2013 - Rise in international land-based Investments
Rush of agribusiness investments of which many have been abandoned while others led to long-standing conflicts with local residents.
2022 – Maasai villages risk displacement for tourism and conservation purposes
Escalation of the conflict between the government of Tanzania which allocated land to a private business investor without consultation and the Maasai in the Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District.
Where to go next?
The author’s suggestion for further reading
This report and this video provide an insightful evaluation of the Cities Alliance’s initiative “Securing Tenure in African Cities” with emphasis on informal urban settlements. In the case of Dar es Salaam, NGOs and social entrepreneurs developed a platform for digital land data collection to help female urban refugees obtain certificates of occupancy.
Weldemichel’s article dives into the historical and current conditions of land tenure that enable land grabbing in the name of conservation in Tanzania. Thereby, the analysis draws attention to the trajectories of structural marginalization of pastoralists in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
For an assessment about the state of land information in Tanzania - how open and accessible land information is - please check the SOLI report for this country published by the Land Portal.
 Shivji, I. G. 2009. Accumulation in an African Periphery: A Theoretical Framework. Dar es Salaam.
 The Ujamaa Policy aimed to create a united Tanzanian identity, provide health services and education to all citizens, and to increase food security. That said, it went along with sometimes-forced migration to rural areas.
 World Bank. 2022. Data by Country. URL: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ER.LND.PTLD.ZS?locations=TZ
 Government of Tanzania. 2011. The Constitutional Review Act. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/government-tanzania-2011-constitutional-review-act
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Land Act. Section 4(4)
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Land Act. URL: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord361item388/tanzania-land-act-1999-land-act-1999.
 All reserved or protected areas are governed by specific Acts, such as the Wildlife Conservation Act (WCA) of 2009 for wildlife resources and the Forest Act of 2002 for forestry. For more information, see Sulle, Emmanuel. 2017. Of Local People and Investors. The Dynamics of Land Rights Configuration in Tanzania. DIIIS Working Paper 2017:10. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/mokoro8778/local-people-and-investors-dynamics-land-rights-configuration-tanzania
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Village Land Act. URL: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord362item389/tanzania-village-land-act-1999-village-land-act-1999
 Government of Tanzania. 1995. National Land Policy. URL: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord364item391/tanzania-national-land-policy-national-land-policy
 Government of Tanzania. 1954. Land Registration Act. URL http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord366item393/tanzania-land-registration-act-1954-land-registration-act
Government of Tanzania. 2002. The Land Disputes Courts Act. Accessible at http://landportal.info/library/resources/lex-faoc034431/courts-land-disputes-settlements-act-2002-act-no-2-2002
Sulle, Emmanuel. 2017. Of Local People and Investors: The Dynamics of Land Rights Configuration in Tanzania. DIIIS Working Paper 2017:10. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/mokoro8778/local-people-and-investors-dynamics-land-rights-configuration-tanzania
Pedersen, Rasmus E. 2010. Tanzania’s Land Law Reform: The Implementation Challenges. DIIS Working Paper 2010:37. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/landwiserecord355item382/tanzanias-land-law-reform-implementation-challenge
 Government of Tanzania. 1963. Freehold Titles (conversion) and Government Leases Act. URL: http://landportal.info/library/resources/landwiserecord2488item2521/tanzania-freehold-titles-conversion-and-government
 Massay, Godfrey. 2016. Pillars of the community: how trained volunteers defend land rights in Tanzania. IIED. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/17587iied/pillars-community-how-trained-volunteers-defend-land-rights-tanzania
 Massay, Godfrey. 2016. Land governance Tanzania’s Village Land Act 15 years on. Rural 21 – The International Journal for Rural Development. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/rural21-vol50-nr32016-article6/tanzania%E2%80%99s-village-land-act-15-years
 Weldemichel, Teklehaymanot G. 2021. Making land grabbable: Stealthy dispossessions by conservation in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/making-land-grabbable-stealthy-dispossessions-conservation-ngorongoro-conservation
Walwa, WJ. 2020. Growing farmer-herder conflicts in Tanzania: the licenced exclusions of pastoral communities interests over access to resources. Journal of Peasant Studies 47:2. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/growing-farmer-herder-conflicts-tanzania-licenced-exclusions-pastoral-communities
 World Bank. 2022. Data by Country. URL: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=TZ
 World Bank. 2022. Data by Country. URL: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=TZ
 FAO. 2018. Small Family Farms Country Factsheet: Tanzania. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/small-family-farms-country-factsheet
 Ripkey, Carrie et al. 2021. Increased climate variability and sedentarization in Tanzania: Health and nutrition implications on pastoral communities of Mvomero and Handeni districts, Tanzania. Global Food Security Vol 29. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/increased-climate-variability-and-sedentarization-tanzania-health-and-nutrition
 Pedersen, Anna F. 2021. The ambiguity of transparency in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector of Tanzania. The Extractive Industries and Society 8:4. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/ambiguity-transparency-artisanal-and-small-scale-mining-sector-tanzania
Kihwele, Fadhila. 2021 Gendered health impacts of industrial gold mining in northwestern Tanzania: perceptions of local communities. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 39:3. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/gendered-health-impacts-industrial-gold-mining-northwestern-tanzania-perceptions
 Government of Tanzania. 1968. Land Acquisition Act, Chapter 118.
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Village Land Act, Section 4. And Government of Tanzania. 1967. Land Acquisition Act, Section 3.
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Village Land Act, Section 4(2).
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Village Land Act, Section 4(6).
 Government of Tanzania. 1999. Village Land Act, Section 4(8)(a)(I).
 Government of Tanzania. 1977. Constitution; Land Act ,1999; Land (Assessment of the Value of Land for Compensation) Regulations, 2001; and the Village Land Regulations, 2001.
 Government of Tanzania. 2017. Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act (No. 2 of 2017). URL: http://landportal.info/library/resources/written-laws-miscellaneous-amendments-act-2017
 Land Matrix. 2022. By country. Tanzania. URL: https://landmatrix.org/map/ and Land Matrix. 2018. Large-scale land acquisitions profile: Tanzania. URL: https://landmatrix.org/documents/80/Tanzania_CP.pdf
 Government of Tanzania. 1997. Tanzania Investments Act; Government of Tanzania. 1999. Land Act, Section 20(1).
 Sulle, Emmanuel. 2017. Of Local People and Investors.
 The Citizen Reporter. 2021. Resources Sharing: Heed Calls on Gender Equality. The Citizen, 5 July, URL: https://landportal.org/news/2021/08/resources-sharing-heed-calls-gender-equality
 The Strategic Plan for the Implementation of the Land Laws (SPILL) revised in 2013 aims to ensure that land law and governance better supports the social, economic, and environmental development of the country.
 See for example, Philemon, Beatrice. 2021. 50 Kilwa District women set to receive customary title deeds. IPP media, August 25. URL: https://www.landportal.org/news/2021/09/250-kilwa-district-women-set-receive-customary-title-deeds
 Duncan, Jennifer. 2014. Women's Land Rights Guide for Tanzania. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/12571/womens-land-rights-guide-tanzania
 Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Human Settlements Development. 2016. Habitat III National ReportTanzania. Final Report. Dar es Salaam. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/habitat-iii-national-report-tanzania
 Rasmussen, Maria. 2013. The power of Informal Settlements. The Case of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Planum. The Journal of Urbanism 26:1. URL: https://landportal.org/library/resources/power-informal-settlements-case-dar-es-salaam-tanzania
Authored on21 September 2022