Customary Land Recognition: Zambian Approach to Documentation and Administration | Land Portal



USAID’s Tenure and Global Climate Change Program and Land Portal Foundation will co-facilitate facilitate a dialogue on experiences of documenting household and community-level customary rights in Zambia. The dialogue will bring together the perspectives of government, traditional leaders, practitioners, civil society, and academics to consider how customary land documentation can contribute to national development goals and increased service delivery in rural and peri-urban areas. It will consider challenges associated with large-scale documentation and administration processes and the relevance of customary documentation processes to Zambia’s National Land Titling Program and potential future Customary Land Administration Bill.

Why Customary Land Rights: With perhaps over 50% of the world’s land surface de facto managed by indigenous peoples and local communities, there is a need to recognize and subsequently document these rights to land and associated natural resources. Many of these systems have been governed through unwritten, though locally legitimate, customary norms that rely on traditional leaders. With the recognition of customary rights there is also a need to ensure that state and customary institutions are able to communicate, share information, and work toward complementary objectives. 

Customary land is often portrayed as rural, forested, and lightly inhabited with limited state engagement, while state land is seen as high value urban and peri-urban planned areas. Yet customary institutions are evolving and are not divorced from market forces, urbanization, or migration pressures. Youth migrate into cities only to return to the safety net of customary land when times are difficult. Households may migrate to lightly populated areas with improved soil fertility or more consistent rains. National and international investors seek land for agriculture, as well as commercial, residential, and industrial developments. In some cases, customary systems are disintegrating, where, for example, large areas of land are being converted to leasehold title and local populations are being displaced. These pressures are particularly strong at the interfaces where customary and statutory land management meet on the peri-urban fringe. In other cases, customary systems are evolving and leaders are protecting the rights of local populations through customary land documentation processes or by promoting fair negotiation between communities and investors. In this context, tools are needed to share information freely and promote improved management of land and natural resources. This is particularly important given that in many contexts, while land may sit with the customary institutions, resources, such as timber, wildlife, and minerals, are unambiguously under the control of the state.

Why Zambia: Zambia presents an excellent case study for understanding the opportunities and challenges associated with promoting customary rights recognition. Zambia’s 288 customary chiefs have legally recognized authority over ~70-94% of the country’s 752,000 km2, while government leaseholds on state land are restricted to ~6% of the country at independence, surrounding urban centers and lines of rail, with a further 10-20% of the country that may have been converted to leasehold since 1995. The authority of customary leaders over land is recognized but these leaders have limited tools for land management. Spatial records for both state and customary land allocations are limited, and only a handful of chiefs issue documentation of their land allocations or of customary decisions made in traditional courts. Zambia’s chiefs are relatively non-political, and while some chiefs have been accused of allocating land to investors through non-transparent means, others are seen as advocates for protecting the rights of rural stakeholders. In recent years, the government has launched efforts to document state land through a National Land Titling Program, while at the same time discussing options for promoting the documentation of customary land allocations through a National Land Policy and a subsequent Customary Land Administration Bill. While still under development, these initiatives provide an opportunity to harmonize and build bridges between Zambia’s customary and state land administration systems, which to date are entirely separate from one another. There are a number of pilots related to land documentation being carried out on both state and customary land in Zambia by the government, the private sector, civil society and donors to test processes and technologies for systematic land documentation across customary and state land. These experiences are creating an evidence base from which to develop a national system.    

An equally important, though less discussed, element of customary land management in Zambia is the devolution of rights to natural resources found on customary land, particularly wildlife and forests. At present, though communities may have customary rights to land, they do not have rights to commercialize wildlife or timber, limiting their opportunities for diversified rural livelihoods built on natural resources. Yet there are emerging mechanisms such as community forestry, community game ranching, and community titles that may strengthen local institutions and their legal authority to manage resources. 

This discussion will contribute to Zambia’s customary rights recognition processes by increasing internal understanding of the conducive policy and social framework for rights documentation, and by increasing global awareness of Zambia’s opportunities for leadership in this area.



The specific objectives of this dialogue are to:


  • Demonstrate the role of documentation to increase transparency between state and customary authorities to improve land use decision-making;
  • Highlight how documenting customary rights can be achieved cost effectively through engagement at the interface of the policy, participatory processes, and technology;
  • Increase awareness of the benefits of documenting customary rights for responsible investment, peri-urban development and rural planning, and resource management; and,
  • Raise awareness within the Zambian community of practitioners and government of their opportunity to be global leaders in customary rights documentation, and to raise awareness globally of Zambia’s unique tenure arrangements.                     


Dialogue questions


  1. Customary, community, and communal land in Zambia: What are we talking about?
    1. What is the role of customary/traditional authorities in a modern state?
    2. What tools are needed to manage rural and peri-urban land?
    3. Customary land and state forest, wildlife, and minerals: What is the value of documenting land rights when resource rights rest with the state?


  1. Documenting customary rights at scale:
    1. Legal Framework: Is it legal?
    2. What institutions are prepared to document: government, CSOs, private sector?
    3. What are the most important pieces from a process perspective?
    4. How to from a technology perspective?
    5. How can we reduce costs?
    6. Potential unintended consequences: Impacts on women, youth, and vulnerable populations?


  1. Customary land administration: How to avoid creating a snapshot in time?
    1. How to increase transparency and sharing of data between customary and state authorities using online platforms?
    2. What low-cost tools can be used to register changes?
    3. How can services be bundled for chiefs and communities?
    4. How to build a use case:
      1. What is the interest ranging from land use planning and service delivery to taxes and restrictions?
      2. What is the interest of private sector in customary land documentation?
      3. How does documentation change the actions of smallholder farmers, evidence from impact evaluation?


  1. Opportunities for scaling:
    1. Who can pay for mass documentation?
    2. How to support customary authorities while respecting their differing needs?


Dear Colleagues, 

It is with pleasure that we open a three week discussion on customary land rights documentation and recognition dialogue on the land portal. This dialogue has organized contributions from stakeholders to share some of Zambia's dynamic experiences, and hopes to bring together global experiences on customary rights recognition processes. 

We hope to roughly divide this discussion into a series of questions starting with: 

  • 15-18 January: Context of Customary Land in Zambia - What are the challenges? 
  • 18-24 January: Documenting Customary Rights - How to do it and what can we improve on? 
  • 25-31 January: Impacts of Customary Land Documentation
  • 1-6 February: Customary Land Administration Sustainability and Scaling

Contributions are welcome at any point on any relevant piece! 




Zambia's chiefs are crucial partners in all that happens on customary land. They administer traditional land in line with their customs and traditions, beyond that, they are arbiters who resolve a range of issues affecting their subjects as relates to land. But with the incoming need of documenting land, they now stand at the centre stage of being the key player in the documentation process.


Hi Raymond, I do agree with many perciepectives of your point. Perharps, you may add points by considering the constitutional issues. Documentation to some chiefs may mean taking away the customary land from them. Thanks man.

In our experience at Akros a global health information service provider, we have found rural chiefs to be the greatest driver of change in their communities. Information or instruction coming from a government employee or organizational partner simply does not carry anything near the sway of that same information coming from a chief. We have also found that when chiefs are presented with easy-to-understand graphs and charts, they are very motivated to reinforce the needed behaviours in their community. This is typically done through what we have come to call “chief visualizer dashboards” that are presented on mobile tablets and are automatically updated with the most recent data being reported every month. If a chief is seeing that land disputes in a particular area are on the rise, he can allocate resources accordingly and dispatch support to that area. Similarly, the chief can see a monthly summary of changes made in the system or check attendance at VLC meetings. 

We've started translating some of this experience in health to rural land rights issues, for example in this article.



Clarity is required from USAID on their land titling efforts in Eastern Province and elsewhere. Is this code for the alienation of customary area to leasehold, or simply the issue of land certificates as Chief Ndake is doing?

Dear Ian,

Thank you for this important question. 

The work that USAID supports through the Tenure and Global Climate Change project in Zambia does not promote alienation of customary land to leasehold, and as a result the chiefs and partners (Chipata District Land Alliance and Petauke District Land Alliance) who USAID supports are very careful never to use terms like "land title" in relation to the customary documents that they produce. The certificates themselves have a list of conditions on one side that describe in both English and local language that the certificates do not reflect consent for conversion of customary land to leasehold, as well as other conditions. 


Since 2014, USAID has been supporting the District Land Alliances to engage with chiefs, their advisors, village headpersons and each household in a rigorous process that allows people to map their customary land holdings, and document both landholders and persons of interest associated with the parcels. The certificates fall entirely within customary land administration norms. 


As you note, Chief Ndake (with the support of Zambia Land Alliance and the Nyimba District Land Alliance) has been issuing customary land certificates for a number of years. Additional research is demonstrating that dozens of chiefs (out of 288) around the country already issue some form of document or paper alongside land allocations, though these come in many different forms. The CDLA and PDLA work adds the dimension of a map to each certificate that falls within a village and chiefdom map of parcels. As chiefs' complete the process, some are interested in using these maps for planning purposes with district government.  

waht is the legal status of these certificates locally and at the national level in Zambia. I would like to know if the certificates can be used as collateral and or defend ones's land rights in a curt of law in Zambia

The government’s role on customary land is based on the Lands Act of 1995 together with the procedures as laid out in the Land Circular of 1985. Specifically, for any grant of land to be effected on customary land the local authority (the district council and the chief) must recommend to the Commissioner of Lands such grant. The Commissioner of Lands will make sure that the recommendation is accompanied by the Chief’s written consent and minutes of the Full Council.  In respect of planning customary land as well as maintaining Forest land in customary areas the government relies on Urban and Regional Planning (URP) Act of 2015 and the Forest Act of 2015 respectively. The URP Act provides for the preparation of Integrated Development Plans in all planning areas which include areas under the jurisdiction of traditional authorities. Section 25 of the Act provides for local authorities to enter into planning agreements with chiefs in customary areas. The Forest Act provides for sustainable utilization of forest resources in both customary and state land.


There is an important, almost philosophical, or in any case terminological point here that has not yet been addressed above. As far as I understand (and definitions on Wikipedia of customary and statutory law seem to confirm this), the fundamental difference between both is that statutory law is written down and customary law is not. Hence, and by defintion, customary land rights cannot be documented (= written down), because then they would cease to be customary and become statutory. But this conclusion is not drawn above, at least not yet. Or is my reasoning erroneous?

Dear Jur - Thank you for this question, which deserves discussion, and I hope others will respond with their thoughts/opinions. It is true that in many cases historically customary law has not been recorded, but this does not mean that it cannot be codified, or best practices identified and shared among customary leaders. According to custom, when an individual leaves one chiefdom and moves to another in Zambia, a traditional leader will often write a reference letter for the individual and the individual will apply for land with a new chief. In many cases, the new chief will write a letter and stamp it to say that they are allocating the individual land in a particular village or area. Similarly, a chief may write down customary rules for new members of the community to follow. Just because a chief choses to record their customary decision does not turn it into "statutory law."

Customary law (and indeed decisions made under customary law, such as the allocation of land rights) can be written down, and indeed there has been hesitance to do this among some because a common feature of customary law is that it evolves over time through customary practices. Writing down customary law can be seen to limit this evolution, or indeed the flexibility of the customary leaders. However, one of the benefits of documenting customary decisions on paper is that it may be used as evidence, particularly where two customary leaders or the state and customary leaders clash. We have seen evidence in a few Zambia cases where a chief's documentation of a person's customary right has allowed the individual landholder to contest a subsequent allocation of land to another person.

So we do need to differentiate a bit between:

  • documenting customary law (writing down the actual rules), and
  • documenting customary decisions (writing down the decisions of customary leaders as evidence of individuals' rights).

In the case of customary land documentation, I believe that the documents reflect the documentaiton of customary decisions.

I look forward to seeing other contributions on this statutory/customary law and land law dynamic.

Dear Mattsommerville and Jur,

I will add my opinion on this subject based on my personal experience of living and working with traditional leaders in Luapula Province. Yes for a long time Zambia's culture and custorms have been preserved orally which has caused a lot of values and norms to be lost because as the old generation is dying out so is the history. For sure chiefs in the past administered land and natural resources such as forests and wildlife orally but following the demand for land by both government and the citizens, they began to issue land certificates. First the village head person issued a letter of offer and did the allocation part, including entering the applicants details in the village register, kept by the village secretary. The chief through his retainers played the final role of inspecting the land allocated, and issueing the certificate. During inspections issues of dambos, rivers and communial grazing lands are preserved and people in customary areas know this law by heart. However the challenge here is that, though chiefs have been documenting their work, it is only recognized at grass root level because to some extent customary law is isolated from statutory law. While chiefs are ambitious to protect their rights and resources, the majority are illitetate and because customary land attracts no rates or taxes, they have no source of income hence being dependant on government, a situation which has weakened chiefs as they are afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. 

In conclusion having guidelines for customary land and natural resource management will not change the customary status but upgrade it to customary written law. If such a situation ever happened, poverty in Zambia would drastically reduce as people will securely and proudly own and manage their resources without fear of unfair displacements as it is today. 

Maybe the question to worry about is how will chiefs enforce their customary law without government interference?

Interms of accountabilty, where the chief violates the peoples rights, where do they take the case since he is the chief justice in a traditional court setup?

Apologies for joining this discussion late. I was having challenges with the registration process. Now that I am goes!

Should customary land rights be documented? I see no conflict between documentation and customary tenure. The Codified Biblical approach to land issues has a lot in common with our customary tenure (see Leviticus 25; Joshua Chaps 13-21; Exodus 23:10-11; 1 Kings 21:1-3 and more).  However, given the different customary land practices, it is not entirely clear how easy it would be to review and develop a national customary land administration Act and Regulations built on the common practices from various parts of the country. I however draw comfort from HRH Chief Sandwe who when asked if this was possible answered in the affirmative.  It is also suggested that there are about 75-80 chiefdoms who have some form of documentation of land ownership. This is just under a third of all chiefdoms in Zambia. 

Ur, you have raised a crucial point. The health of the customary commons is dependent on its shared social equilibrium and disavowal of ‘tall poppies’, its protection of the ‘living ancestors’ and the sacred groves, its judicial system, its custodianship of the land and protection of the land rights of its villager usufructuaries – all of it unwritten. The rule of law is therefore achieved more easily in a customary commons where there are no written rules whatsoever, and where the chief is not corrupted, overly dictatorial or weak. And unlike written constitutions, it is flexible. And dealing with land, the responsibility of headmen, in this manner poses less of a risk to landgrabs and the plundering of ecosystem services. I had recommended that headman could enter the GPS coordinates of an awarded patch of land in a land registry book. Issuing land certificates – even with the disclaimer about non-conversion to leasehold – poses a risk as they could be obtained by a plunderer from a number of usufructuaries and then, for instance, converted into a trust, one supposedly ‘owned’ by the villagers who had parted with the certificates, but in reality ‘owned’ by the plunderer. And having a community trust presents no obstacle to a crooked chief. The late Senior Chief Luembe sold the community game ranch trust and its land I had established to a Petauke trader. I could go on.


On the other hand, the state law machine, now under the command of a neoliberal regime, spews out laws and legal instruments endlessly from the pens of battalions of lawyers, often contradicting other laws, or being alegal, or being questionable statutory instruments rushed through by some minister without the agreement of parliament. All of this emanating from an urban society where there is no democratically shared life, nor any hope of one.


Perhaps Matt can tell us if USAID carried out an EIA of the land certificate process and its likely impacts?

Thanks Ian and Jur, 

This discussion is now moving into the practical discussions of the respective advantages and disadvantages of customary and state systems, and how to make them work better. Customary systems offer more accessible access to justice and the use of social norms to enforce a set of rules that are (more) commonly understood locally, while state law (and processes) may be unknown, rather foreign, inaccessible, and enforced haphazardly to local communities. In my mind the challenge is not which one is better suited, but how can they respect one another and share information about decisions taken in either system. It is this access to information and customary decisions that the land documentation process aims to help to resolve (as long as it is respected by the state, customary leadership (including headpersons, advisors and the chief), as well as community members).  With open information, it would be more difficult to undertake double allocation of land and claim consent. As Ian's concerns about people's understanding of the rights associated with any landholding and the risks of land consolidation, they are real, though are unavoidable in a customary or state system, where there is land pressure. As to Ian's question on an EIA, USAID carried out a series of environmental examinations before proceeding with grants to the Chipata District Land Alliance and Petauke District Land Alliance to work on customary land documentation. 

I would very much welcome the views of the CDLA/PDLA and Chipata/Petauke Chiefs into this conversation. 


I have been following the discussions with interest. I would like to know the status of the Zambian Land Policy . This is because this strategic framework has taken long to be developed and put in place. I would like to hear from those in the country what is the status and the implications for customary land


Dear Gaynor, 

The Comprehensive National Land policy is awaiting final validation. The meeting was first scheduled for 19th December 2017. It was then moved to 10th January 2018 only to be postponed again due to the cholera outbreak in Lusaka. We are waiting to be notified of the next meeting. In the meantime we are reviewing the draft.

Thank you

Dear Nsama

Thank you for your reply and update. It is encouragig to see momentum in the Zambian Land Policy. Is it posiible to share the document and or highlight the implications for customary land right holders.- Thank you

Dear Gaynor

I will share the document as soon as i figure out how to attach. Please advise if there is an easy way that i can share. Thank you

Hello Nsama: If you are able to attach the draft on e-mail or place it on Google docs, you could attach a draft or send me the link -

Many thanks, Ian.

ian, you seem to suggest that the protection of commons is better suited by it not being documented and that upon documentation there is every likelihood of a "plunderer" appropriate such commons. However I take the view that society is evolving quickly and large scale land acquisition are taking place in areas where there is no documentation- and yes even in the commons. The protection of communities from the plunderers requires stronger institutions in land administration above the chief only. The chief might well be a custodian of land in customary areas but what is emerging is that the temptation to give out that land is getting greater and without evidencial documentation it will only get worse.

Many thanks for all these very interesting reactions to my question, which, perhaps needless to say, had a subtext. I sometimes wonder why it is considered so important to respect and consolidate the customary rights modality. Matt gives some good reasons (accessibility, local understanding), but from a viewpoint of equal rights for all citizens (and people who live in remote communities are citizens of the country they live in) one could argue that the co-existence (and occasional overlap) of two systems is undesirable and confusing, not to mention the risk of condoning regional isolatonism, or even tribalism. In that sense, I fully agree with Emmanuel: "The protection of communities from the plunderers requires stronger institutions in land administration above the chief only.".

And so, up comes again the question that we have to face: at what point 'customary' becomes 'statutory', even if many people would not like that? The abstract announcing the study by Rachael Knight (thanks for mentioning it, Matt!) is a case in point: "Protecting and enforcing the land rights of rural Africans may be best done by passing laws that elevate existing customary land rights up into nations' formal legal frameworks thereby making customary land rights equal to documented land claims." Again, this contradction in terms: in my view, when something is part of a nation's formal legal framework, that makes it by definition statutory.

Perhaps it would be interesting to invite Rachael to this discussion, Matt? 

Finally, I am used to my surname being misspelled, with great frequency and in many variations: Schurman, Schurmann, Schuurmans... But Ian set a new standard by taking out one third of my first name, transforming Jur into Ur... ;-) just making fun, no problem there!

This discussion is broader than Zambia of course, and in general, I think what Jur and Emmanuel are calling for is a mechanism for accountability, whether on state or customary land. This can be achieved through both access to information, such as Zambia's new National Spatial Data Infrastructure supports, and access to justice, where statutory systems are often less accessible to the rural poor than the customary structures. We are seeing cases both in the customary and state systems where decision makers are being held accountable, with a few chiefs being disciplined due to land issues in the past few years, as well as councils losing their rights as agents of the Ministry of Lands. So from my perspective, the question isn't necessarily whether one or the other is better, but rather how can we build capacity of land service providers (state and customary) and encourage citizens to hold these providers accountable. 

Why is it important to respect customary rights: In a general, and not Zambia-specific sense, I would argue it is important in as much as the constituents believe that it is important. In many rural areas, customary institutions are the only active governance structure in place, legislating new or hybrid governance structures, such as a land boards, are likely to be ineffective without a huge investment of resources and full commitment of local stakeholders. The reality of the Zambia context is that there are customary institutions woven into rural life, and in a period of stability, you can't expect a state institution to immediately have the same legitimacy as customary institutions. As a result, at present, I would argue that a dual system is desirable. 

As to co-existing of two systems: Some would similarly argue that the federal systems of government in the US, Australia, Belgium, Germany creates "co-existence (and occasional overlap) of two systems (that) is undesirable and confusing" and inefficient. But, they are related to the conditions that resulted in the founding of our countries and as a result, we are somewhat locked in.   

On customary becoming statutory: I take your point that customary may "become" statutory, but it is not inevitable. As a broad example, take marriage law and indeed inheritance law in some countries where the statutory system defers to another body, for example a religious body, to make the final decision. Often time the statutory law will place restrictions on the customary institution's ability make any decision they want (for example, specific provisions against childhood marriage).

But how does local government interact with customary institutions? It is clear that rural land rights cannot be administered exclusively from a capital city in any large country like Zambia. We find informal and unrecorded land transactions occuring because people do not have the resources to travel to the capital to transact. The longer-term question in my mind from a land adminsitration perspective will be if land administration will be fully devolved to District and Provincial levels, and if this occurs what will the relationships be between traditional leaders and district government.  

Rachael has promised to try to chime into the discussion during the next few weeks, so stay tuned. 


Matt wrote '...if this (decentralisation) occurs what will the relationships be between traditional leaders and district government?'

There are of course crucial resource constraints to be addressed in relation to decentralisation. If these constraints are addressed, I would propose a devolved, transparent, inclusive and accountable institutional framework in which land and resource ownership vest in chiefs and headmen who hold it on behalf of the people. A representative committee of elders/indunas supported by a few technocrats to allocate rights to land/resources and finally a different team of technocrats at district level doing the land administration. It is hoped that such a separation of functions will limit the abuse of power. With such a multiplicity of structures, there will be need to clearly spell out the roles and responsibilities of different institutions to avoid conflict and duplication.

Emmanuel, While agreeing with you on the concept of a devolved governance model made up of indunas and a few technocrats, and another layer at district level, I have a challenge on the financing model of such a proposal. At village or chiefdom level are we able to summon resources to make such a model work? Needs must be that we however do need such models especially in the context of the local area plans that are proposed in the enacted Urban and Regional Planning Act. Would we need a specially enacted Customary Land Act which will cover the administration of such land? Or should we have one Land Act which include a big Section covering Customary Land Issues and how to handle them. Also in terms of information management should we also contemplate a customary land information system outside (or linked to) the Stateland Information System (ZILMIS)?

Dear Emmanuel, 

I take your point on how to finance and mobilize these joint customary/state systems. I do also have a fear that if and as customary functions get mixed with state functions people who so far are providing their labor through customary traditions will look to be paid (and when the payments fail to reach these actors they will stop doing the functions that they have been providing customarily... and we will see a further breakdown of customary systems).  There is a deep literature on the demotivating factor of paying people for delivery of public goods (i.e. once you start paying people for a service they had previously been performing for free (or in kind) you have to be able to continue to finance that payment otherwise, they will stop entirely). 


My work on customary land acess by women and others work showed that the overlapping of statutory and customary  land righst is not necessarily an bad thing as it increases the choices and options of forums available for people (especially women ) to negotiate and defemd their land rights. It is also possible for the statutory and customary land rights to complement each other in ways that reinforce and strengthen land claims

Given the nature of customary  land claims where users and claims are not mutually exclusive but more of layers and or complimentary claims- I would like to know how the customary land registration process would take care of these various claims in a registration process.This is because the complementary and or so called deppendent claims of women and younng children are often overlooked in the registration processes. I also would like to understand if there are best practices in this regard.

Dear Gaynor, 

There are multiple ways to do this either by allowing for joint claims or registration of persons of interest or allowing claims to be made on the behalf of a group (if there are multiple overlapping claims on the same land for the same use). Alternatively, if land is used seasonally for grazing or has parts that are accessible to the broader community, in Chipata and Petauke the groups are documneting "shared resources." The deeper point though is that customary norms need to be defined or clarified as other norms emerge (for example are you allow to fence your property and keep out grazing cattle or people from following a footpath). In parts of Europe there is a "right to roam" and the UK has historically had easements which mean that you cannot keep people from walking through your property where there has been a historical footpath. These are some example where exclusive rights don't necessarily apply. In other parts of the US, you have to post "No Tresspassing" to make it known that you do not want people on "your" property.  

Overlapping rights are a really important part of these tenure systems that leasehold titles often don't consider very deeply. 

A number of important issues/questions have been raised in this discussion already. But I thought the topic for this week is "Context of Customary Land in Zambia: What are the challenges?". As such I will restrict myself to this topic.

Some of the challenges include:

- unorganised land use planning 

- illegal 'trading' of customary land, motivated by the fear of the landless future at household/family level but without capacity to utilise newly acquired land

- power concentration in individuals rather than having strong institutions. Power concentration is at all levels (National, chiefdom, village, household)

- lack of say by the people, leading to land displacement

- massive public ('unschooled' and learned alike) ignorance about land administration - with many people leaving or using land without know its legal status. Others simply do not know the value of their land.

- weak enforcement of land laws, sometimes exacerbated by resource starvation of land institutions 

- unclear national vision on land - demonstrated by lack of a comprehensive land policy 50 years after independence 

- land degradation

- limited research 

- 'etc'


These challenges require concerted efforts and most of all political will to be addressed.

Thank you Henry for these comments and diving into the challenges and context (we look forward to your inputs throughout the dialogue). Do you see any positive momentum to address these challenges? Do you think the upcoming Land Policy is going to help to put CSOs, government, citizens and traditional leaders on the same page and set a common agenda? Or are the pressures too great at the moment. 

Thank you Matt.

Indeed the momentum to finalizing the draft land policy so far is encouraging as it demonstrates political will to address the issues. What is important is to maintain this momentum as well as understanding what is driving this political will.

Indeed as Matt says, focusing on whom has rights and responsibilities of managing customary land (considering the overlaps) is key as it is argued that titling land does not necessarily convert customary land to state land. The key question that needs addressing is, how much land do traditional leaders control, versus what the state does? Traditional leadership control of land is shrinking and so at a faster rate without a comprehensive land policy and laws in place. The question is, where will we end up especially if we consider the growing population which is ever becoming younger. The Idea of the Customarily Landholding Certificate is important here as it attempts to promote tenure security among households, particularly if it can take care of intra-household dynamics.

Further, some of the traditional institutions seem to be weakening, either because of immense pressure from outside their chiefdoms or due to failure to resist temptations. Some of the pressures is actually coming from their own people. In this case it is important to let the power over land in the hands of the people themselves, of course with the involvement of with their traditional leaders.

Government needs to take a lead in this case, to hear what research evidence is telling us, for instance, to promote agriculture productivity/intensification/diversification. Framers need more of this information, so they don’t always think of having too much land. Further, many elites in Zambia who have gone out there to acquire a piece of land believe that in the long run there will be no land to talk about. This fear is pushing many to get out there and get a much as they can for their children and grand children.  What we all probably need is to be assured that 50 years from now the land will always be there to access, whether still in an agricultural set up or in a transformed Zambia. This is what will prevent many people from rushing for land which currently they may not even need. The draft Land Policy does not seem to address this issue.

Further, large scale land acquisition is a reality in our time. With all the merits which it has come with, it is also a challenge, particularly in terms of reducing the amount of land under the control of the traditional leadership. The draft land policy seems to shy away from this phenomenon. It probably need to be more decisive on the matter.

Key among all these issues is to promote good land governance strengthening land administration institutions which should override our individual wrong/motives.



Henry - Thank you for the follow up. Some interesting points... namely that we need evidence. The newspapers and radio focus on the traditional leaders engaged in malpractice, but perhaps do not adequately focus on the successes. Given the diversity of leaders and structures, it would be interesting to carry out a survey of good governance principles across a number of chiefdoms alongside an analysis of land disputes, land conversions, distance to major urban areas, size of chiefdoms etc. 

On large-scale land acquisitions in customary areas, has the Indaba Agricultural Policy Institute (IAPRI) done any research on the total scale across Zambia? I've seen some reports on individual investment impacts, but no country-wide analysis. 


I agree with you on the challenges faced under customary land adminstration, however i feel that we need to look further and userstand why customary tenure has such problems???? Zambia has laws and policies and customary land adminstration is encompssed , therefore to some extent i feel that it is infact the weak laws and policies, the absence of certain pieces of legislation around land that has resulted in all these challanges.

I believe that if we have to address these challenges under customary tenure let us focus on what is working on the ground and improve on that> for example the customary land certificates which were piloted in Eastern province, this is a concept already working and being followed by the chiefs only that it needs to be improved in one way or the other and needs to have the same strengh and authority as a title deed.

The issue of power concetration in an individual instead of a strong structure, there is always a structure of adminstration and this is the structure that needs to be strengthened so that chiefs can listen to the advise  by their indunas, this coupled with a community of well enlightened people will result in the reduction of these challenges.

There is some land use planning going on in customary areas, each community member knows where animals graze, they know where to collect mushroom and firewood, they know where villages are and farms and many more, therefore there is just need to enhace what is already on the ground and we will realise that after all customary land adminstration is not that bad at all.

Dear Jesinta, 

I agree with you that effort needs to be placed in strengthening local governance institutions. Yes, land and resource legislation can and perhaps should be ammended to allow communities great rights to make decisions over the resources on their lands, but at the same time, Chiefs and headpersons (who have legally defined responsibilities) require training on the existing structures open to them. I have heard that historically newly gazetted chiefs would attend a training at the same government training center that local government staff attend, but that for some time this has not occurred in some time. Before we overly criticize customary land governance institutions we need to better understand the resources and guidance they have access to. I fully agree with your comment that communities know their resources and that governance institutions need to be close to the communties. The presence of the chief and his/her governance structure within the chiefdom, is a major reason to work with this instution rather than expecting the Ministry of Lands or Forest Department to be able to cover the areas far from their district or provincial offices for the forseeable future. 

I agree with both Jesinta and Matt. Customary institutions are in place in most chiefdoms. The challenge is their capacity 'status'. With the changing environment, most of them, particularly those which do not have access to information and training, have very limited capacity to deal with complex land challenges which beset them. They need support. 

Indeed Jesinta on the issue of land use planning, many customary land inhabitants 'plan' use of their land, and they have done so for generations. The issue is whether the current planning methods can cope with the changing environments (population expansion, land investment pressures, land degradation, etc). Again the key issue is capacity to handle complex planning challenges and how to update their customary methods of planning. Capacity strengthening is key here as well and that’s a huge task we are faced with here in Zambia. The new planning law is, I believe, a great opportunity for them. Capacity strengthening will be required in implementation even if we end up with a good land policy.

Matt, indeed the media tends to focus on problematic areas of customary land administration. It is a culture that needs to be changed. Many chiefs out there are doing noble work that needs to be brought out. But remember, it’s what we are all accustomed to –what surprises people is what is termed as news. My personal view is that IAPRI has done good interesting on land, though not on the total scale of land investments across the country. A survey on good governance can be of interest though may require some thoughts as to whether it is in line with the institution’s research plan, and resources of course.

The biggest challenge we have with customary land is that though government seems to consult chiefs over land use and planning, the chiefs are over powered by state law. For example, after the late president Micheal Sata regulated township expansion in 2013, it was a good move aimed at rural development but for chiefs most of them lost power as the areas signed off now fall under council.

Apart from that, the government has introduced  multi facility economic zones in provinces meaning chiefs in every district (Luapula) must allocate 10, 000 ha for development. Already people in these areas are marked for resettlement.

As the province pushes for development, we expect hundreds of people to be displaced, in Samfya 40, 000ha has been given to an investor for development and the people there will be relocated. Other areas of concern include those marked for oil exploration.

What iam trying to say here is, without written customary law, chiefs administer the land as if it solely belongs to them without consulting the people who they hold it on behalf of. Either way thou the law states that land is vested in the president on behalf of the people, the people are always left out! Its always chiefs vs government and the people last.

I think your point on township expansion is a good one. From the few cases I've followed, the township boundaries were expanded to the council, who then "planned" the area for development. But the development was for traders, businesses and those who had money and interest in building houses on small plots. The previous customary residents were not compensated for lost property, in the best case, they were offered a residential plot, which they often did not have the capacity to develop. These former customary households, finding no opportunities in the township, then went back to the chief to ask for land, elsewhere. The traditional structures are therefore left to deal with these resettlement challenges. Marrien Kalapula did a very nice study of this case in Lundazi, which I will try to attach as a resource. 

It is not surprising to me therefore, that a chief (or peri-urban headperson or household) would wish to sell off their customary land before it is planned by council expansion without compensation. This leads to another question, should the sale of customary land be legalized with conditions (for example among Zambians or for non-commericial uses). 

Township Expansion - Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR) and Ground Force Land and Engineering Services have been undertaking a review of our award winning but outdated 1996 Housing Policy on behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing. During our nation-wide consultative process to all 10 provinces, it was impressed on us by most local authorities of the need to extend township boundaries if we are to address our urban housing needs. In our assessment of the amount of land needed to address the projected housing deficit of 3.3m by 2030, we estimate that the country needs at least 194,600 hectares of land for human settlement. Of the estimated land requirement, about 40% is for urban housing and 60% for rural housing (our rural estimate was based on individual homesteads only it did not include agricultural land). In spite of requiring the lesser share of land compared to the rural housing need, the urban housing need is more critical considering the rapid urbanisation (4.3%) rate and the inelastic statutory land delivery systems. On the other hand, over 65% of the rural housing is substandard. Most of the current housing deficit consists of the need to replace substandard rural housing. This justifies the provision of the Urban and Regional Planning Act to subject rural areas to planning. Through the provisions of the URP Act, it is expected that customary areas will be able to rationally set aside sufficient land for housing and human settlement development to help address the housing deficit. In order to deliver 194,000 Ha of land for housing, we proposed that government works together with traditional authorities and other private landlords. This suggestion was accepted by the House of Chiefs.

Sale of customary land – This is already taking place outside of legal structures. Legalising this would be an acknowledgement of fact and provides an opportunity to levy taxes on such sales. These funds would then be channeled into some form of Community Development Fund for the benefit of the whole community. However, I agree that there should be tight control in the way land is allocated and disposed of.

Dear Emmanuel - Thanks for the references and description. One of the challenges of township expansion from my perspective is that in the areas where I have seen it done, the expansion occurs well before any development comes to an area, as boundaries are expanded by some kilometers through a buffer around existing boundaries. So you may be asking households to be moving or have their land suddenly converted, when there is no imminent change of land use. At the same time, these customary household may see their lands converted to a new development and they don't have the good fortune to benefit from the sale to the developer. For me, part of the challenge is integrating existing peri-urban households into the benefits established from township expansions.  

Thank you for this. In the interest of widening the debate I would like to invite us to appreciate that customs and theand customary authorities that govern customary land are diverse in Zambia(e.g the existance of patrilineal and matrilineal communities). If we take into account the diversity , we are better able to appreciate the complexity of the situation. I hope to hear from practitioners working in these areas

There is insufficient information on the status of land ownerships records, leases, and general cadastral information in Zambia, (size of state land and customary land). There is need for a comprehensive land audit.

There is also a challenge of government perception of customary land with a general perception of customary land as idle, readily available and not in support of the land market (economic theory of land). However, the majority of the land, about 90% of Zambia’s land is controlled by the Chiefs where there is often overlapping customary and statutory tenure. To date, there has not been a clear way to build trust/confidence between the government and the Chiefs and hence tension exists which hinders the two parties from working together. Indeed, in many cases, Chiefs perceive the government as an agent of land grabbing.

We believe that the process of land titling needs to be revisited; it should not look at making customary land into statutory land, as conversion could lead to some communities losing their land. The government titling programme should look at integrating customary tenure in its customary-ness without converting it into state land, ‘customary land administration’ without being extinguished and replaced with different forms of tenure.

We recognize that some chiefs and traditional leaders (Indunas) have abused their positions as custodians of customary land and sold land in unscrupulous ways. There are cases of double allocation of land, disinheritance of widows on land etc. These cases need to be examined and dealt with through training and governance support.  

Zambia also needs to consider the challenges of rapid urbanization. Lusaka for instance is expanding rapidly and getting taken over by real estate companies and other investments.

Protection of women land rights remains a challenge. As much as we have a few chiefs who support women land rights, others sell land indiscriminately without regard for their subjects. Women are at a high risk of getting disinherited of their land or being displacement from arable to barren land by chiefs.

The figure of customary area covering 94% Of Zambia I am partly responsible for - I had included trust land handed over by chiefs for protected area, some 20%. That put customary area at about 74%. However, USAID considers that another 10% has actually been alienated. Thus customary area makes up 64% of the land.

Something not taken into account is that many of the forest areas and parts of some national parks have been taken over by their former commons owners. The West Mvuvye National Forest has seen the invasion of Ndake's people, and the illegal sale of part of it by Chief Mwape (her mother doing the same in league with the Petauke District Council). The grabbing of protected forest land is a massive scandal, as in the alienation of customary area to commercial farming blocks - without the permission of its traditional owners.

The 1995 Lands Act set in motion the landgrab

The protection of women is a major priority. The Drawdown Project established to deal with climate change considers that Educating girls - their wellbeing, education, and security of tenure in customary area is essential. The current oppression of child marriage, sexual cleansing and the like, needs to be tackled by a more aggressive education system, appropriate legislation, and strict cultural controls imposed by the chiefs and headmen. And most important, given Zambia’s surging population increase of 3%, women need massive help with family planning. Giving them secure usufruct rights to land is absolutely essential.

The question of how much of the country is customary is indeed interesting, but as you imply, it is important to separate what that means for the relationship between communities, chiefs and government agencies. While 94% of the country may be customary on paper, what does it mean for land to be customary land, but to have a Game Management Area on it, or to have a national forest on it? In these cases there is an overlap of customary responsibilitiest and state management responsibilities. More recent arguments from some have also said that land conversions keep land as "customary land" but convert it to "leasehold tenure." The practical reality is that management is removed from the responsibility of the customary authorities. There is a long-standing question of "what is a chief without land?" Under the Chief's Act, traditional authorities have responsibilites over law enforcement across these areas as well. There are plenty of examples to look at across Zambia and compare, whether along the line of rail, in peri-urban areas, or with the relationship between rural chiefs and tobacco investors in the east. A recent article by Sitko et al., 2015, on the geography of customary land looks at how much customary land is accessible to local communities, arguing that 54% is accessible for smallholders. 

I would argue that the most important item to clarify in these cases are the overlapping rights and responsibilities of stakeholders on any piece of land. 

Look forward to hearing others 

Matt Wrote 'While 94% of the country may be customary on paper, what does it mean for land to be customary land, but to have a Game Management Area on it, or to have a national forest on it? In these cases there is an overlap of customary responsibilitiest and state management responsibilities.'

Conflicting and Overlapping Roles – There is much to be done in terms of reviewing and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the various institutions dealing with land and resource management together with their policies and enabling legislation. For example how do the responsibilities of the Ministries of Land and Natural resources, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Water Development Sanitation and Environmental Protection, The Ministry of Mines and Mineral Development and the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs relate in terms of land and resource management. When and where does one Ministry's responsibilities commence and end.

The increasing attention on customary land tenure towards customary land administration is related to an increasing need for strengthening of customary institutions. Statutory tenure and the customary tenure often co-exist especially at the local levels. Worthy to mention is that customary tenure have survived from colonial period to now and have continued to play a vital role in customary land administration. Customary land tenure has an important role to play as effective powers on the ground.

Historically customary and statutory land tenures have been intertwined, and part of the legitimacy of customary land tenure derives from state recognition.

Recent efforts of including traditional chiefs in land administration at local government meetings have shifted the focus to existing social and political structures at the local level. With little regard to customary land structures, such actions are likely to fail. Further, this inclusion is not without problems. The inclusion of customary institutions into government structures is a way of dealing with the reality of weak state performance in customary land administration.  Strengthening of customary land tenure can mitigate the harsh reality of states weak performance.

Customary land tenure in Zambia exists in complex relations to their local constituencies and the state. This complicates their integration into modern Zambia. Besides, customary land tenure institutions are close to their people and can help with the provision of basic services and the improvement of the social and economic conditions at their local level.

Customary role has always been betwixt and between, that is, being accountable to their customary constituencies and simultaneously to government. The complexities of this dual system have not easily been resolved in the constitution.


Great point, Joseph. Zambia, more than most other countries, has a strong legal recognition of customary rights. Rachael Knight's work on "Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa: An Investigation into Best Practices for Lawmaking and Implementation" provides a really nice review of the legal dualism and experiences that can be relevant to the Zambia case. USAID also undertook a review of experiences recognizing community rights through Jhaveri et al. in 2016 in "Community Land and Resource Tenure Recognition: Review of Country Experiences." 

The role of traditional authorities is one which has seen much debate. With the right institutional arrangement a combination of customary tenure with a proper regulatory framework can deliver communities from poverty. The issue is how this regulatory framework can be framed without seeming to usurp the powers of the traditional authorities but also ensuring that modern land management and administration practices are embraced. Semi-fuedal systems in most rural communities must begin to give way to new advances in land administration and may include decentralised land administration systems supported by government



  1. To ensure it is totally protected from alienation in perpetuity: On 12 May 2017, Hilal Ever, the UN Special Rapporteur On the Right to Food weighed in with the following:  “Customary land rights should be put at an equal standing with state land in order to protect the rights of those living on customary lands.”
  2. To cease establishing any new farms blocks on land alienated from customary control. Any commercial investment should be done by way of a land trust where the land is never alienated to leasehold
  3. To compensate the victims of the alienation
  4. To transfer renewable natural resource rights from the rent-seeking state to the customary commoners.
  5. Mineral rights royalties to be paid into a Permanent Fund by the state, with annual share payment to all village commoners over the age of 18.


The points that you have listed down, Ian are very important but perhaps not sufficient to address the multi-facetted challenges of land administration in Zambia and in other so called developing countries. Registration of customary, I believe, should be understood as an effort to reinforce a legitimate 'non-state' alternative that holds promise to ensure equity and security of access and use of land by the poor. Following the Lands Act 1995 that brought about land market in Zambia, reports of corruption, involuntary displacements etc are ubiquitous in the media. Land is now a scarce resource and at the centre of power-play. 

Rurality is almost synonymous to resource-deficiency or financial poverty in Zambia. Having an equal standing might lead to communities selling their land just to have liquid cash to spend on other things. I'd argue that having strong and functional institutions to govern land will remain key to dealing with land governance challenges that Zambia is currently facing in the wake of mass demand for land nation-wide. Strong and functional institutions will take care of the main challenges.  Unfortunately, indications seem to be pointing to the contrary.  

The role of Government on Customary land is to ensure that the urban elite do to not displace local inhabitants. It is also to ensure that progressive customary land practices are encouraged.

The Urban and Regional Planning Act of 2015 provides for planning of customary areas in consultation with traditional leadership. Although the actual operationalization of this Act has not been seen, the Act provided a very progressive entry point for enhanced interactions between chiefs and government. For these interaction to be successful, there is need for trust between the two parties.



The issue of trust between Government and Traditional Authority is one that requires closure especially that the URP Act is in place and requires that ALL land is planned. The fear by the Traditional Authorities is that if land is planned and by extension "administered" by government what authority will they have over the land themselves? Assurances that they will still be consultant on issues of land alienation might not be sufficient to placate their fears. On the other hand, the Traditional authorities have been the main culprits in allowing unplanned development in their areas. This leads to high costs when government wants to provide services in these areas. It is government's responsibility therefore to ensure that the law is followed by all parties-whether such enforcement may not be taken kindly by the traditional authorities is another matter

Garikai and Emmanuel, 

 It seems to me that legislation and many of the inputs on planning and documentation, describe the world that we hope to get to someday, as opposed to the reality of the current situtation where rural lands, and particularly smallholders, will be a relatively low priority in comparison with the pressing issue in urban and peri-urban environments. While some of these roles may be government's responsibility and there are new institutions on paper through decentralization or a lands commission that have responsibility, the reality is that we are a long way from making these function from a capacity or funding perspective.

Therefore, my concern is that efforts to "fix" land issues need to work with the institutions that exist at present (and Zambia is lucky that the customary institutions exist, are legally recognized, and in some cases function well).  As long as government is perceived by chiefs or community members themselves, as an outside enforcer, and not partner, there will be challenges. From my limited experience, most chiefs, whether well-educated or not, have advisors who are well-educated (often former civil servants who have retired back to the chiefdom), who could be trained in best practices in land adminstration, and who could support a positive relationship. As long as government is seen as coming from the outside, I think there will be resistance. But if government hires and trains people from within the rural areas (either youth or retired civil servants), I think we will find increasingly positive relationships.  

Dear Garikae

Government's relationship with traditional land is much more complicated and dynamic. I refer to a paper I co -authored in 2012 to illustrate my point  . The point is to invite the platform to diversify their views on the position and role of the State in Zambia in relationship to customary lands.

The current demand for land in Zambia calls for conversion of customary land to state land to meet future land recquirements. There is every reason to fear that with this high demand for customary land, the local people will have problems accessing their own land. It is becoming more apparent that without effective allocation system of customary lands, access to lands by locals is threatened. Land tenure security is often associated with land titling and registration, hence an attempt to replace customary land system. In Zambia there is inadequate legislation to protect customary land for the future. 

Interesting contribution, Moses. As we unanimously agree that there are issues with land governance in Zambia, I believe we need to make a systematic attempt to identify what the challenges are and 'design' what the legal system needs to be like to appropriately respond to the challenges. What should the legislation be like? What socio-economic dynamics and government development priorities need to be reflected in the legislation in a multi-cultural country - given that customary land administration is inspired by cultural norms? These might not be peripheral questions to a discussion that seeks to improve the welfare of the poor and the powerless in our midst.  

Land legistration or titling in itself is far from being a panacea to the land challenges that Zambia is facing. An interesting study by Admos Chimhowu and Phil Woodhouse (Customary vs Private Property Rights? Dynamics and Trajectories of Vernacular Land Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 6 No. 3, July 2006 pp346-371) indicates that titling of customary land commoditises it and 'opens the possibility of distress-sales by the poor in times of hardship, thus accelerating social differentiation and landlessness among the poor.' This is something to be fought against in a pro-poor land policy or any other land legislation. There is work to be done to ensure an initiative such as land registration yields positive, desired results.  

Traditional leaders would love to get more involved in customary land administration and management as opposed to just being custodians, just to issue a customary land certificate to their subject gives a sense of responsibility and the need to build their capacity to manage huge data sets. In Petauke customary land documentation undertaken with Chief Sandwe with support of USAID where more than 8000 parcels have been demarcated for the chief to issue customary land certificates has attracted the attention of the Zambian government into whether they could adopt the documentation process elsewhere in the country.   


Thank you for the contribution. It would be interesting to hear from Chief Sandwe over the next few weeks, on his views on the role of chiefs in customary land administration. I believe later in the week we will also be trying to better understand the role that CSOs, like yours have to play. 

Thanks Matt,

We will have chief Sandwe submit on his views about the role of chiefs in customary land administration. I am sure it will be interesting for everyone to look out for this opportunity

As we begin this crucial debate on one of Zambia's most fundamental resource-Land, it is very important that we first look at the orgin of customary land which covers over 90% of all land in Zambia. When the British first came to Zambia, then known as northern rhodedia, there were no political systems or anything called government. The people who had settled in zambia lived in clans under the rule of chiefs who where assited by sub chiefs and village head persons just as it is today. However in 1928, the british colonial rule divided zambian land into native reserves and trust land accounting to 94% and left it for the Africans under their traditional leaders and kept 6% which they called crown land and vested it in the queen of England. After independence in 1964 government and politics where born but land administration did not change. The native reserves and trust land still belonged to traditional leaders under customary tenure while the state took over the crown land under state tenure. This system of a two way tenure system created and still creates conflicts between customary and state power. Suprisingly enough, to date, no head of state or goverment official can develop customary land without the consent of the chief, yet all natural resources that include forests, fisheries, wildlife and minerals including those found in customary land are vested in the president who holds it on behalf of the citizens. Unless power sharing is well defined, there will always be conflicts of interest between traditional leaders and the state.

Dear Nsama, 

Thank you for this contribution, which opens up a critical point and one that I hope more people will respond to. In many post-colonial countries, the state asserts commercial rights to forests, wildlife and minerals. Therefore, best way for someone to assert their right to land and benefit, is therefore to clear it of state resources (forests and wildlife), and replace with crops and livestock (which can be owned unambiguosly by the landholder). 

Where do you see opportunities for power sharing to be clarified? Does Community Forest Management or Joint Forest Management offer a solution? are there mechanisms for community wildlife management? Are communities benefiting from minerals found on customary land?  

Thank you very much for the questions that will help me expand on my post. The future for power sharing in the rural areas is quiet uncertain at the moment reason being

1. The Zambian people are divided into two power in which the learned who understand government policies captilize on the opportunities and invest and the second in which the unlearned who dont understand policies fear government law enforcers such ad foresty, fisheries, wildlife and mines because they do not know how to legally invest in these sectors.

While the revised forestry, national parks and wildlife and mine and minerals acts recognize community forests and promotes joint management, the majority in rural areas do not understand these new policies. They lack information so much that they rely on their own understanding. If the tural poor can access information and be part of decedion making in an environment that has no intimidation, they would be agents of the change we all want.

2. Wildlife management has been left entirely to government, people do not understand the value of wildlife and currently (wetlands of national importance-Ramsar sites, national parks and GMAs) are under serious threats of habitat loss because as the population grows people need land to settle and without conservation knowledge they demand for degazzetion of protected areas.

Despite this challenge, if the people understood the benefit of wildlife and are made entitled to revenue sharing..they would actively participate in management.

3. People who dont own mines dont benefit from mineral resources. The mine owners pay tax and the rest goes to them. The mines and minerals act still over shadows the land act, meaning to date all mineral resouces belong to the state and the only way one csn benefit is by way of licence.

Here the opportunity for people to benefit is regulating the licensing for development minerals, though it has low value, people can easily access it at a lower mining cost though here i must say the environment could be endangered unless protective measures are strictly put in place.

'Where do you see opportunities for power sharing to be clarified? Does Community Forest Management or Joint Forest Management offer a solution? are there mechanisms for community wildlife management? Are communities benefiting from minerals found on customary land?'

Partly respoding to the above.....  

The mapping and documentation of village boundaries presents an opportunity to assert and demonstrate community ownership of resources. Security of tenure, strong and representative institutions and demonstrable community benefits are crucial to setting up successful community or joint management structures.

However for this to work, communities should be capacitated with strong negotiating skills in order to counter the powerful external forces which are often aligned to the holder of the radical title – the State. Advocacy groups can be enlisted to work with traditional authorities and external private sector interests to create a win-win situation.

Hi Nsama,

I think the 'recent' enactments of the various laws e.g. the Forest Act and its strategy, the Wildlife Act, Fisheries etc have tried to address benefit sharing not necessarily power sharing. However the extent to which this benefit sharing through an informal traditional authority is questionable. Therefore we see that others have endeavoured to create Trusts which have a semblance of legality although such Trusts have been questioned sometimes in terms of whether they go far enough to encompass everyone in the communities they claim to represent.

Trusts in rural areas could be one solution to ownership, however like you have stated, its the extent to which others benefit that raises eyebrows. Like cooperatives the rural poor dont understand articles of association and constitutions..maybe if they draft them themselves in a language they understand they could each understand their rights and responsibilities. The issue of entrepreneurship skill also comes in. The majority miss business opportunities because they dont know how to conduct it or measure the value of the resource they have, whether land, minerals or forestry products like mukula..the local people dont know the actual value.

Zambian lands legislation, Zambia has a dual system of land tenure of customary and leasehold tenure. The official documents insist that land is vested in the President on behalf of all Zambians. However, this legal stance has not been well received and agreed to by many customary administrators. The customary administrators hold that if land is entirely vested in the President, then they have no chiefdoms to rule. This legal position is still a challenge to customary administrators who have not agreed to it. And by so doing, the issue hangs in a pandemonium.

People especially the politicians; have argued that customary administrators have been a hindrance to foreign investors and many government projects. Some political illustrations have been drawn from the Barotseland agreement 1964. They insist that all land should be vested in the President.

Customary tenure provides its land on the basis that one has the right to land for as long as they live on it, and if they migrate such a piece of land is returned to the customary administrators. However, some have argued that this is a barrier to development because other people may fear of losing property if they invest and later decide to migrate to other chiefdoms.

Despite serving under the governments’ ministry of chiefs and traditional affairs, the customary administrators have no land policy (SI) to legally back them in customary land administration. Such a policy (SI) can enhance security of tenure for its people who are largely in the minority groupings.

Thank you Joseph, 

What do you see as the legal way forward for clarifying these issues? Is it a framework legislation regarding customary land? Is it a national land policy that clarifies relationships between customary and state land institutions? Are there experiences from the region that can provide guidance? 

Hi Matt,

     I think the way forward is to enact laws and policies that will cut out and strike a balance between current national legal frameworks and customary land rights. Let’s learn from Tanzania “Improving Land Sector Governance in Africa: The Case of Tanzania Paper prepared for the “Workshop on “Land Governance in support of the MDGs: Responding to New Challenges” Washington DC March 9-10 2009 by J.M. Lusugga Kironde.

     Among other insights, Tanzania embarked on a land law and policy reforms, cutting down through various stages of land administrations and striking a sustainable stance. At least, each customary land rights stage is addressed in the national constitution (i.e, Individual level, village/community level etc). Once there is total legal recognition of customary rights by enshrining them in the national constitution, many ambiguities, largely political, and overlapping legal interpretations will decrease drastically.

Read the above link which shows the great success being achieved by the issue of Certificates for the Rights of Customary Occupancy. However, the government - as in Zambia - takes what it wants.


'What do you see as the legal way forward for clarifying these issues? Is it a framework legislation regarding customary land? Is it a national land policy that clarifies relationships between customary and state land institutions? Are there experiences from the region that can provide guidance?'

Partly responding to the above....

The on-going land and resource mapping projects e.g. Development of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure, the soon to be launched National Land Titling Programme and Land Audit programme provide a welcome opportunity for legal and policy reforms aimed at clarifying our dual land administration system.  Whether it is the crafting of a new customary land administration Act or a land policy that clarifies relationships between customary and state land will depend on a number of factors, not least, what is politically and economically feasible.

“Both, traditional authorities and the Government of Zambia have important roles to play in documenting customary rights. Each are supported by development partners, international donors, civil society and the private sector who facilitate and empower the community to document their land rights.

We at UN-Habitat believe that the process must be a fully participatory process at all levels and inclusive of the community, the local leaders, and the government.

It should be balanced in terms of gender

There should be wide sensitization of any form of land documentation to avoid conflict; given the sensitivities of land issues.

Once the data is collected, a clear procedure for data validation should be in place.

The process should put community empowerment at its center with communities able to carry on with the process for example regular updating of data.

Finally, there is a need for identification of local champions/opinion leaders/elders who can further the cause on registration of community land rights using appropriate cost effective technology.

As far as technology: Fit-for-Purpose land administration solutions are necessary that include, open source geospatial technology that can be easily accessed by communities. It should also allow direct access of data by the communities and the local community should be able to store and update information.

A good example is the Social Tenure Domain Model, an open source model which has been implemented in three villages of Chamuka Chiefdom. STDM captures person/s to land relationships cognizant of the land rights continuum and supports all forms of land rights and claims, (formal, intermediate and non-formal). It is a pro-poor, gender responsive, participatory and affordable land in-formation system and has proven to be community friendly in terms of learning and skills transfer.

(ii) National Standards should not be relaxed per say; what needs to be done is the incorporate Fit-for-Purpose land administration and move away from the conventional administration of land.

The Office of the Surveyor General needs to discuss with the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environment Protection to have uniform acceptable standards and models of exchanging data on whatever technology is to be used in documenting land rights (in case different development partners are engaged on these processes in Zambia). The standards on how data is being collected should be in line with the National Land Information System currently underway”

The vast majority of rural lands in Zambia lacks formal documentation, a challenge that many CSOs have attempted to address through various processes;

  1. chiefdom maps are outdated and have not helped to resolve longstanding disputes among chiefdom boundaries conficts in Zambia.
  2. villages are legal structures according to 1971 villages Act but they lack formal boundaries
  3. household/families have no documentation of their long-term rights to land, muiltiplying vulnerability of many groups in society.

Petauke District Land Alliance engeged in an entire chiefdom documentation of 210,000 hactares of land which revealed a lot of overlapping interests from both state and customary landholders e.g. Game management area settlements, resettlement areas, state but abandoned farms and forest lands.

In order to document these different rights and interests the following steps were followed;

  1. first of all you need to conduct sensitisations so communities begin to create interest in the process through sketch mapping and village identification,
  2. secondly conduct mapping of shared resources and communal lands, gather existing information from governement departments about different resources such as forest area maps, GMA maps and state farm site plans
  3. Thirdly, conduct household mapping of fields and document claims
  4. produce maps resulting from household land mapping for communities to object, confirm, and correct records in a given time of atleast 4 weeks
  5. At this point customary land certificates are prepared, for signing by the chief and onwards distribution to communities.
  6. Administratively community groups such as land committees need to be trained in information collection system so that they are able to assist landholders effect changes when necessary e.g. when owner of certificate dies to facilitate transfer

Custumary/Traditional authorities can support the modern land administration and legal tenure by playing a role of testimony and caution in certifying local land occupation genesis. This position can be helpful for land plot’s ownship registration in rural and peri urban areas for land administration technicians and officers…Custumary/Traditional authorities can support the modern land administration and legal tenure by playing a role of testimony and caution in certifying local land occupation genesis. This position can be helpful for land plot’s ownship registration in rural and peri urban areas for land administration technicians and officers… In case of conflit, these local authorities can deliver right information, or indicate right persons to facilitate good information collection. 

For a successful customary land documentation process, you need to build the capcity of traditional leaders mandated to manage customary land who are chiefs and headmen. Resulting from documentation are land conflicts which have to be managed. Huge information which needs to be kept and updated. Therefore training of these land administrators in land conflict resolution is key just like is with data management especially at chiefdom level.

Participatory process and participatory land tools witch facilitate local stakeholders’ inclusion and implication in land resources management… Capacities building of CBO’s leaders and members will open communities mind in appropriating NR caring process and strategies. A recurrent advocacy campaign towards political authorities and custumary/traditional leaders is also necessary sometimes! Inclusive and participative consultative approaches based on democratic social dialogue often give more sustainable outputs in land management systems... (MOU, Consensus, Agreements, Alliances ... )

The idea of improving the documentation of the land rights of rural Zambians may be best done by enacting laws that strengthen existing customary land rights into Zambia’s formal legal frameworks. Rather than lawmakers inventing politically aligned new legal frameworks, customary land rights documentation systems must be based on the daily lived realities of the people. Lessons can be learned from: J.M. Lusugga Kironde work on “Improving Land Sector Governance in Africa: The Case of Tanzania Paper prepared for the “Workshop on “Land Governance in support of the MDGs: Responding to New Challenges” Washington DC March 9-10 2009”.

Laws must be enhanced to establish or support existing customary administrative processes and dispute resolution mechanisms for rural communities to use them to claim, prove and protect their customary land rights. For instance, some chiefdoms in Zambia have simple, clear, local and easy to use systems (customary land rights) but they lack full support of the national law, the Zambian constitution.

National legal mechanisms must be improved to be appropriate to safeguard against intra-community discrimination against women, widows and minority groups. Further, laws must be enhanced to fully protect community land claims and create real tenure security while allowing for sustainable development in local communities. Laws and policies must be enacted to ensure appropriate checks and balances between customary and state administrators and ensure direct democracy to the local people.

I know the heading sounds like we are prying into people's private lives, but hey this is about Documenting Customary Land Rights! 

What are we documenting and for what purpose are the rights being documented?

Interest in Land - Different approaches and safeguards need to be established and put in place depending on what rights (communal or household) are being documented so as to guard against unscrupulous people or organisations usurping these rights to themselves at the expense of the community or household.

Mapping accuracy - The rigour with which we map communal resources such as a dambo, forest will be different to how we map a private field or indeed a private homestead. This brings in the issue of measurement techniques and standards.  

Coordination, Quality and Standardisation -  I am aware that apart from the just ended TGCC project in Eastern Zambia, there are at least another two similar trials in customary land documentation. These pilots are generating a lot of useful information as well as developing useful tools and techniques yet it appears there in no coordination from the Ministry of Lands and certainly little to no involvement of local licensed land surveyors. As a licensed land survey practitioner I am worried that although we are key stakeholders in land alienation and registration we not been actively engaged in the ongoing innovative pilots. There is no doubt that data generated by these plots could potentially prove very useful in helping populate our developing National Spatial Data Infrastructure and also contributing to the National Land Titling and Land Audit Programme hence all the more reason why coordination, quality and standardization issues are important.

Thanks Emmanuel,

I think its important that key stakeh0lders, pilot in different places and methods all point to the fact that something needs to be done to improve the entire customary land administration in the country. We are actually happy to interact and share information about process, tools and what we have done so far with surveyors in Zambia. I am sure that the Ministry of Lands, Dept of Resettlement etc, have viewed and seen the data we have and are ready to share for purposes of ensuring that relevant laws are relaxed to accomodate such innovations that might lead to speedy titling of land in Zambia.  

Emmanuel - 

As we move into the discussion on customary land documentation, you identify some important points, particularly around the documentation of communal resources. For the community: What are the options for registering communal land in Zambia? Is there any legislation to protect dambos or forests (that are not National Forests)? Do you feel that customary law protects household rights to agricultural land equally to community rights to seasonal access to forests and grazing areas? 


Another point you raise is the view of surveyors... What does the community think the way forward is and how do surveyors feel about the concept of "general boundaries" ( and its relevance to the Zambian context (both in terms of household and communal boundaries)? 



With respect to ongoing innovations in the documentation of customary land, there has been very little structured engagement by the cadastral survey community. What I present therefore are my own personal views and do not necessarily represent the views of the Zambian survey community.

The current system of registering land in Zambia is based on a fixed boundary system. This is a system introduced by the colonial government and operated by a profession of cadastral surveyors trained in the measurement of land using elaborate methods and precise equipment. This system provides for the registration of exclusive rights based on survey diagrams and beacon monuments. In my opinion, the question we need to address is not whether the country should use general boundaries or fixed boundaries but rather, with what rigour should our boundaries be mapped and is it necessary to monument the boundary corners? I would argue that the TGCC pilot and others have all the characteristics of a fixed boundary approach except they may/or may not have used precise measurement techniques in coordinating the boundary points and there was no construction of concrete beacons.

My personal view is that the traditional rigorous fixed and monumented approach might not be cost effective in our National Land Titling Programme. Current land survey regulations allow for the conditional use of photogrammetry methods to perform cadastral surveys. I would therefore suggest that we use the recently acquired (from the national mapping programme)10cm high resolution rectified ortho-photos (captured for all our cities including the Copperbelt and all provincial capitals) to produce individual property diagrams for registration purposes.

Equally we should also consider using 50cm resolution satellite imagery acquired for all built up areas (approx. 25 sq km) of each district for registration purposes. As for the rest of the country (including communal boundaries) the recently completed TGCC pilot in Eastern Province and other similar approaches offer possible techniques to the mapping of household and communal boundaries.

Should the government consider issuing and registering title deeds on the basis of records generated by community surveyors in various customary land documentation pilots there are issues of standards, training and regulation to be addressed. According to the Land Survey Act and the Land and Deeds Registry Act, the only persons allowed to extract and certify property boundary data for registration purposes are licensed surveyors.

First and most the Tradtional Land Tenure System is has been over generalized. All most every Traditional Authority has it own unique land tenure system coming with common or agreeable way forward in any direction is not easy. These differences have to be addressed. It is just like the Local Court which are based on specific culture, customs and traidtions

Thank you Kusiyo, 

Can you describe some of the common areas in which the systems differ, perhaps by ethnic group or other elements? Certainly customary fees may differ, or the person that one would go to see, perhaps the rights to exclude grazing animals from property could differ among chiefdoms. 


Steps to doing preliminary data recording:

1. Collect background documentation from ministries responsible for land and local councils and integrate into GIS

2. Integrate into GIS use with chief and ministries as part of land-use planning processes

3. Meetings with Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, Dept of National Parks and Wildlife, local Council, Forest Department and others to make data useful and accessible

Hi Moses,

Great points there. I would add that updating the chiefdom boundaries to reflect what the current situation is might be useful as well, perhaps even before delving into other processes. When we are talking about documenting customary lands, what exactly do we want to document? 

Thanks Andrew,

We document land claims which include household land parcels, family lands, communal resources such as streams, dambos, water points, etc, we also identify state lands such as forests, Game Mnagement areas, state farms as well

Hello Moses, GMAs are not part of state land, though many people in Zambia believe they are. Originally controlled hunting areas within customary area and under the control of what was then called the Native Authority, they were converted to 32 game management areas (GMAs) - still within customary area - in 1971 by statutory instrument. In 1993 they were declared under the Game Management Declaration Order by statutory instrument No.67 of 1993 as areas for the sustainable utilization of wildlife.[i] ZAWA simply used them as a rent basket from hunting-safaris and never paid what was agreed to the CRBs, let along the customary residents. And they provided game quotas having no bearing on the resource base. 


[i] Zambia Wildlife Act No. 12 (1998) GOVT. GAZETTE (Acts), at Part V.26.1. 

Dear Participants,

Many thanks for your contributions to this important discussion, ‘Customary Land Recognition: Zambian Approach to Documentation and Administration.’ In some way, the first week has been a curtain-raiser, but more than that, the week offered all participants an opportunity to bring to the fore of the discussion issues that land governance in Zambia is plagued with.

During the past week, the discussions touched on the pivotal role that chiefs as custodians of customary lands (can) play to ensure the rights to land of their subjects are protected. Chiefs are agents of change. A historical background and evolution of Zambia’s land tenure system as promulgated through the nation’s legal system was discussed. Challenges of the existing system were extensively discussed. Cited challenges included: power concentration in individuals rather than strong institutions; illegality/corruption when ‘trading’ customary land; limited research that limits evidence-based decision-making processes; illiteracy coupled with lack of sensitisation campaigns that should empower communities who are the primary stakeholders; and absence of a comprehensive land policy that reflects the local as well as national socio-economic and environmental interest. Other challenges included the (wrong) perception that Zambia has abundant customary land. Currently, research suggests that land under traditional administration is way below 94% that appears on paper. This (wrong) perception has implications on development priorities that the government sets on customary land. The bifurcated land tenure system and the manner in which it is administered in the country has created a ‘State vs Traditional,’ an ‘us vs them’ situation. In some (if not, in most) cases, this has led to an antagonistic rather than synergistic relationship between the state land administrators and traditional authorities.

To respond to some of the challenges above, the proposed recipe of solutions included: documenting customary land rights; clarifying what should be documented and by who, for who, for what and how; establishing trusts in rural areas; devising mechanisms for power-sharing; certifying customary land; giving customary land the same legal standing as state land, duly compensating victims of land alienation; halting new farms blocks on land alienated from customary control; transfer of renewable natural resource rights to customary land commoners; and payment of mineral royalties into a Permanent Fund. 

The discussion and enriching submissions last week correctly set the tone for this week’s focus on documenting customary rights – how to do it and how we can improve on it. It is a week of proposing feasible responses to the pressing challenges that were identified last week. We are all looking forward to yet another exciting week of discussing customary land recognition in Zambia.

Thanks Andrew for the summary.

As has already been posted on this topic by a number of people, customary law evolves with time. The challenges in administering customary land that Zambia faces today (listed last week) demand some form of documentation of customary rights. Evidence so far from pilot projects suggests a strong case for documentation. In fact, scaling up documentation to national level may be necessary as many chiefdoms are left behind. Some key points to note (as you pointed out) could be:

What and how to document for sustainability

How to ensure that documentation does not in itself result in disadvantaging local ‘landowners’

How to take into account ‘family’ or ‘household dynamics’ including the present and future generation – which brings into play the aspect of planning

How to institute the culture of valuing land and preventing individual self-interests from overriding common and national interests (of course with other equally key issues of gender, age, etc)

How to address power play issues

Cost implications and how they would be addressed

Further, this brings us to the question which was earlier raised: should the policy/law allow buying/selling of customary land. Though this is not the topic for this week, the issue is how to ensure that documentation does not expressively lead to trading of customary land in the long run.

Most of these are addressed in the pilot projects and would therefore need replication in other areas. They, however, require a comprehensive land policy and legal framework.

It would be great to discuss documentation for sustainability. Key to this is that documenting reserve lands within communities for future allocations is cardinal, creating an u nderstanding within communities about common resourcs and who governs them. There is need as well to support strengthening local governance structures for purposes of improved land governance, perhaps one may think about natural resources management rules which include necessary enforcement mechanisms. 

I think it is very important for guidelines on customary land to be clear on the issue of sale. In as much as traditional leaders may state that this land is not for sale, most of us who reside in customary areas bought land either through village head persons or first settlers who decided to rellocate. The reason for such purchases is to ensure security as free land often raises conflicts even within families. Now through sensitizations most chiefs have halted the sale of land and are refusing to sign letters of conversion. In as much as they are trying to protect their land, in some areas they have no say as it is now belongs to the council.

In conclusion documenting land will require

1. Traditional leaders and local authoruties to conduct land audits to assess how many people own land and under what tenure

2. Assess how much state and customary land, including public and common land is available.

3. Develop guidelines together taking into condideration the needs of the people, environment and development.


Thanks to all for the very rich discussion. How important is it to facilitate the reversion of leasehold land back to customary land in the event of failed projects? I think all would agree that the development goal is to make productive use of the country's land, and large-scale projects are intended to do that. Many never materialize and the land set aside for them sits idle or underutilized. In my research, I have seen that failure of such large-scale projects is more likely than success, which leaves those who lost their land on the outside looking in at unproductive land they are not allowed to use. The land is never returned to traditional authorities or the community, and my understanding is that the draft National Land Policy still lacks any provision for the reversion of land. Wouldn't allowing and even facilitating such two-way land conversion ease some of the resistance by communities and traditional authorities to leasehold projects? In any case, wouldn't it serve the cause of agricultural productivity to have underutilized leasehold land returned to the chiefs and the community so they can address the land constraints of their own people?

Dear Twise01,

Indeed it is very important for land that was converted from customary to reverse back in the event of underutilization. Though the land act of 1995 does not provide for such, the final draft has made a proposal for guidelines to be developed so that customary land can return its status. However whats not clear is wheather this will be enshrined in the final policy or chiefs themselves will be the ones to draft the guidelines. I think as CSOs we have to advocate for clauses of customary certificates recognition and reversal of conversion to be stipulated in the policy. As for now, these clauses are just coming out as suggestions.

I agree with Tim and Nsama, I have not seen much discussion about reversion of leaseholds back to customary land, even though it is one of the main complaints by traditional leaders on the current policy framework. The current patchwork of conversion (in my opinion) represents a big management challenge, as having non-contiguous parcels of state and customary land makes it difficult to plan and resolve issues that emerge.  

Barotse Land Management System

Historical Background

Western Province is one of the ten provinces of the Republic of Zambia. Before Zambia’s independence on 24th October 1964, it was called Barotseland Protectorate. The first known leader was a woman called Mwambwa who was later succeeded by her daughter Mbuyamwambwa. She was succeeded by her son the first Litunga (or King) Mboo Muyunda. The state expanded under his leadership by sending his brothers and other relations to the surrounding areas to establish Lozi rule.

On the advice of his counterpart King Khama of the Mangwato in Bechuanaland and Francois Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, King Lewanika I accepted the British rule so that he would be protected against the impending German and Portuguese invasion and periodic Ndebele raids. On 27th June 1890, King Lewanika I and the British South Africa Company signed the Frank Lochner Treaty. The signing of the Lochner Treaty marked the end of the Lozi autonomy as it now become a British protectorate.

On 18th May 1964, Sir Mwanawina III Litunga of Barotseland and Kenneth Kaunda Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia signed the "Barotseland Agreement 1964" which established Barotseland's position within Zambia in place of the earlier agreement between Barotseland and the British Government. The agreement was based on a long history of close social, economic and political interactions. The Barotseland Agreement granted Barotse authorities and people specified limited local self-governance rights and rights to be consulted on specified matters, including over land, natural resources and local government.

Barotse System of Government

The Barotseland gained a special status under the British Colonial system as a British protectorate. Overall power over land was vested in the Litunga (King), through the Barotse Native Courts Ordinance Act (1939). This was later repealed after Zambia gained its independence bringing the province under the statutory law of the land. However customary laws are still firmly established in the province due to its special status, autonomous history and strongly centralized traditional laws and court system (Gils, 1988). The Barotse Royal Establishment is the custodian of the traditional laws and court system.

Governance Structure

Barotse system of government is of five tiers or levels. Starting from the central government to the village level.

Namuso: The first tier of government is referred to as Namuso (literary the Mother Of Governments.) This is the central government of Barotseland. It has the Litunga as the Head of State and the Ngambela as Prime Minister. The Ngambela is the political, administrative and judicial head of the Barotseland. Second to the Ngambela is the Natamoyo. This title means “Master-of-Life” or “Redeemer”. He has the power of sanctuary or refuge in his person and house. The Ngambela works with other Indunas (Ministers) in-charge of specific sectors such as health, forests, canals, wildlife, etc.

Lwambi: The second tier of government is the regional government of the southern part of Barotseland, which is headed by the Litunga-La-Mboela, which means the Litunga of the South. She has the Sambi as the political, administrative and judicial head of the southern region of Barotseland. The government of Lwambi has it’s own Natamoyo and other Indunas

Chiefdoms: Barotseland is sub-divided into eleven (11) Chiefdoms each headed by a Chief. A Chief has a team of Indunas to assist him / her in governing the area. This is a tier of government. In each Chiefdom has an Induna as political, administrative and judicial head.

County Administrative Areas: In every Chiefdom there are County Administrative Areas referred as of Lilalo. The Silalo (singular) has an Induna who is its political, administrative and judicial head.

Villages: A Silalo has a number of villages (Minzi). Munzi (singular) has an Induna who is its political, administrative and judicial head.

Kuta: Each level of government has a Kuta. The main responsibility of the Kuta is to carried out political, administrative and judicial functions of each tier of government.

Land Tenure

Land in Zambia is of two categories: customary and state land. There are two land tenure systems; freehold which has unlimited duration and leasehold which is limited by number of years. The land tenure for customary land is freehold while for state land is leasehold which for 99 years.

Under leasehold, land is owned by the state while individuals merely rent or hold it as tenants. Secondly, the leaseholder is required by law to pay ground rent to the state for renting the soil or land. The leaseholder cannot sell, transfer or assign any land, before obtaining consent of the President. This is because all the land in Zambia in entrusted to the President on behalf of all Zambia.

In the case of freehold (customary land), individuals own the land and their heirs can inherit it. However they cannot sell, transfer or assign any land without the consent of the Kuta. This because all customary land is held in-trust by the Litunga.

Barotse (Customary) Land Management Systems

All the land and natural resources in Barotseland are entrusted to the Litunga. Land in Barotseland is acquired and given through the Litunga. It is for this reason that the Litunga is referred to as the owner of land and cattle (Minya-Mupu-Na-Ngombe ) and the King of the earth (Mbumu-Wa-litunga ). This does not mean that he is entitled to do as he pleases with every piece of land within the boundaries of Bulozi. He is the custodian of the customary land. His rights are clearly defined. Traditionally, Lozi people say that the King is the owner of Bulozi and its trees and his servants and the cattle, the Prime Minister is owner of the Lozi people (Mbumu to minyo Uluyi ni itondo na bika ni ngombe, Ngambela to minyo Aluyi). This saying emphasises the importance of the Litunga as the giver of material wealth and the importance of the Ngambela as the leader of the nation. Once the Litunga gives, the recipient has definite protected rights in what he has received.

Land Ownership Types

There are five basic land ownership types in Barotseland.

Mubu-Wa-Ngweshi: This land belongs to the Litunga, and is inherited by each Litunga who ascends to the Throne. It is scattered all over Barotseland. Entrusted to the Litunga and /or Litunga’s representative (District Chiefs) for the people of Barotseland, it is from this land Litunga and Chiefs can give land to people who ask for land for it for homesites,, agriculture, or other kinds of development. The land and natural resources found on this land are managed on behalf of the Litunga by Indunas at various levels.

Mubu-Wa-Luu: District Chiefs and certain Indunas and members of the Royal Family have access to land, which is attached to their positions within the Barotse Royal Establishment. The family members cannot inherit this land, when the current holder of the position dies, resigns or dismissed, the ownership is transferred to successor. The present owner is responsible for the management of this type of land and its natural resources.

Mubu-Wa-Bana-Ba-Malena: Members of the Royal Family hold this land in trust. This is hereditary - passing from generation to generation in the same family membership. However, should be a situation such that there is no one to inherit the lands to the trusteeship reverts to the Litunga. Members of the Royal Family and their Indunas are responsible for the management of this and its natural resources.

Mubu Wa Lusika: This land belongs to ordinary citizenry of Barotseland. This is hereditary - passing from generation to generation in the same family membership. This type of title is also referred to as Katongo-Ka-Shangwe. Family concerned responsible for the management of this and its natural resources

Mulalambuwa: This is land that is far from any human settlement. No village or person has claim over it. Any person can acquire this land by following prescribed procedures through the Silalo Induna. The land and natural resources found on this is managed on behalf of the Litunga by Indunas at various levels.

Adjudication of Land Disputes

The main business of the Kuta consists mainly in the hearing and settlement of cases. Many of these cases concern land disputes. Identifying and agreeing on boundaries of the disputed land is a major part of the proceedings of the Kuta. Physical features such as lakes and foot paths mark boundaries.

Dear Kusiyo,

 What a rich and detailed background on the barotse land. Indeed it is very sad that we as mere citizens have no say on matters that are critical to the executive, judicial and legislative powers of our government. The history you have put forward just rang a question in my head if there will ever be a chance for our international boundaries to be revisted. In the case of Luapula, we have been cut off from the Copper belt by the Congo pedicle. This route now serves as a revenue collecting point for Congolesse immigration because every motorist pays K30 upon entry and another K30 for exist. Foreign nationals have to pay an entry visa of $50 entry and the same for exist. This visa charge is disadvantaging investors and tourists from visiting the province as the only other route is the long way around Tuta in central province. 

Alot of Zambian fishermen have been killed on Kilwa Island as it is not clear whether the Island is Zambian or Congolesse.

Perharps the comprehensive national policy will address these issues as we head for finalization.


AHG/Res. 16(I)


The assembly of Heads of State and Government meeting in its First Ordinary Session in Cairo, UAR, from 17 to 21 July 1964, Considering that border problems constitute a grave and permanent factor of dissention; Conscious of the existence of extra-African manoeuvres aimed at dividing African States; Considering further that the borders of African States, on the day of their independence, constitute a tangible reality; Recalling the establishment in the course of the Second Ordinary Session of the Council of the Committee of Eleven charged with studying further measures for strengthening African Unity; Recognising the imperious necessity of settling, by peaceful means and within a strictly African framework, all disputes between African States; Recalling further that all Member States have pledged, under Article IV of the Charter of African Unity, to respect scrupulously all principles laid down in paragraph 3 of Article III of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity: 1. SOLEMNLY REAFFIRMS the strict respect by all Member States of the Organization for the principles laid down in paragraph 3 of Article III of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity; 2. SOLEMNLY DECLARES that all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence.



On the implementation principles of the AU Border Programme

5. We note that the implementation of the AU Border Programme will be effected at several levels – national, regional and continental, and that the responsibility of each of these levels should be determined on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity and respect of the sovereignty of States. a) Border delimitation and demarcation (i) The delimitation and demarcation of boundaries depend primarily on the sovereign decision of the States. They must take the necessary steps to facilitate the process of delimitation and demarcation of African borders, including maritime boundaries, where such an exercise has not yet taken place, by respecting, as much as possible, the time-limit set in the Solemn Declaration on the CSSDCA. We encourage the States to undertake and pursue bilateral negotiations on all problems relating to the delimitation and demarcation of their borders, including those pertaining to the rights of the affected populations, with a view to finding appropriate solutions to these problems. (ii) The Regional Economic Communities and the African Union should assist the States in mobilizing the necessary resources and expertise, including by facilitating exchange of experiences and promoting inexpensive border delimitation and demarcation practices. (iii) The Commission of the African Union should conduct a comprehensive inventory of the state of African boundaries and coordinate the efforts of the Regional Economic Communities, and launch a large-scale initiative aimed at sensitizing the international community on the need to mobilize the required resources and any other necessary support. On their part, the former colonial powers should submit all information in their possession regarding the delimitation and demarcation of African borders. b) Local cross-border cooperation (i) The local stakeholders should be the direct initiators of cross-border cooperation under the auspices of the States. (ii) The States should, with the assistance of the African Union, facilitate local initiatives and mandate the Regional Economic Communities to implement regional support programmes for cross-border cooperation. (iii) The Regional Economic Communities should provide the legal framework necessary for the formalization of cross-border cooperation and establish regional funds for financing such cooperation. (iv) The Commission of the African Union should take the necessary steps to ensure that cross-border cooperation is included in the major international initiatives launched in favour of the continent, as well as play a coordination role and facilitate the exchange of information and good practices between the Regional Economic Communities. c) Capacity building The African Union Border Programme should, on the basis of close coordination between the different levels concerned, carry out an inventory of African institutions that offer training in this domain, explore avenues for collaboration with relevant training centres outside Africa, and, on the basis of the above, design a capacity building programme in the area of border management.

Dear all, 

As i was reviewing the draft policy that awaits validation, it came to my attention that most of our concerns on customary land have been touched upon, my main observation was that our constitution which is the supreme law has provided for lands commission which will be in charge of issuance of title deeds. Meaning, even though the policy and the constitution recognize customary land, the role of chiefs has been outlined and issueing title deeds is not one if them.

Documenting customary land has been provided for in the draft and there are also suggestions to review other policies such as the Survey Act of 1960 and also realign the use and management of common land with the forest and wildlife policies of 2015.

Other points i would like to raise are on the Citizen Economic Empowerement Act and the Land Development Fund which does not seem to touch people in customary lands. These funds could be used to assist traditional leaders and local authorities to upgrade their documentation processes. Accordingly, the last map or perharps first and last map which shows chiefdoms and state land was prepared in 1957 and has not been updated.

If traditional certificates are to be recognized, chiefs must play a role in all land use planning and administation processes especialy that the draft is calling for provisions for reversing state land back into customary land if it has not been utilized.

Hi Nsama,

It is gratifying to learn the current draft land policy has touched upon some of the concerns that have been raised during the discussion. Zambia is one of the countries with a nicely written policies that end up gathering dust on shelves. Policy implementation is an enormous challenge. This is attributed to different reasons such as financial constraints, low staffing levels etc. Beyond these almost systemic challenges, what needs to be done to make a transition from policy to practice so that the land policy does not end up paying lip-service to land issues in Zambia? What role do CSOs/NGOs, bilaterals, academia etc need to play? What are the priority areas of interventions to incentive the implementation of land-related policies? 

Having policies that are not implemented is as good as not having them. Since our interest is National Land Policy, it is important to look at which institutions are key to its implementation. Enough research and demonstration has been done by CSO s in Zambia especially Land Alliances in the area of documentation and appropriate technologies. What is remaining is now working together to first of all develop implementation plan which will define clear roles of all those involved e.g. Role of chiefs in certification has to be clear, role of civil society and bilateral donors, government institutions. 

Dear Andrew

I think the first and biggest step is for government to explain to the general public what policies are and why as a country we have so many policies. It is very sad that at times when we meet for PDDC, some people in high leadership positions do not know or understand the policies that they work with. This is the danger and result of having too many policies which almost seek to address the same issues but in the long run overlapp and contradict each other. I think moving foward zambia must merge policies by line ministries as a way to move from policy formulation to implementation 

As is it at the moment, auditors reports in most environmental line departments indicate shortage of staff and inadequate funding plus lack of transport to monitor activities. Such reports must help us to realize that unless these policies are addressed under one ministry..there isnt enough financial and human resource to implement them.

On the other hand almost all new policies have emphasis on improving peoples livelihoods without leaving anyone behind..but as usual people at grass root who form the majority of the population are left out. Our role as CSOs is to ensure that people in the communities we serve access information. But again Andrew, policy engagement requires financial resources so that people are enganged in a way that they understand the policy and opportunities plus their responsibility to ensure that it is implemented. Most of us grassroot organizations lack such resources yet when it comes to community mobilization and sensitization we play a big role.

In the case of the land policy the draft has already propsed many other pieces of legislation that need to be reviewed snd aligned to the new policy. If this land policy has to succeed implementation must be costed in the national budget because there will be costly activities attached such as land audits, boundary demarcations, producing maps and administration guidelines as well as decentralizing the lands comission offices.

Dear all, 

I think some of the contributions already have touched on customary land documentation practicalities and laws, including,

1.  Whether the process of documentation is legally permitted, and what the status of any documentation might hold in the eyes of the government. 

2. How a process could be carried out in the field to document customary rights (household, chiefdom boundaries, and shared resources). The views of broader stakeholders (particularly the surveying community) on finding a balance between standards and the flexibility that is required to be practical, particularly when comparing rural customary holdings, and peri-urban or high density areas. 

3. Who should be carrying out the process of documenting customary rights. 

Some other specific questions have been raised that we can create specific chains around... For example,  should customary land be transferable? We will open a few themes and contributors can continue through replies, to help focus. We may also move some of the first week's discussions under these themes (given the limitations of this discussion format). 




Is the process permitted and what is the status (if any) of the documents, databases, or community maps that are generated? 

Yes, the documentation of customary right is a preserve of the traditional authorities. The fact that there is no legal framework that governs this registration, does not in itself negate from its registration. The Lands Act (section 7) recognises customary tenure, the Deeds and Registry Act(section 28) excludes grants of concession by chiefs from the purview of its mandate. Documentation of customary rights is well in the armbit of the law as it does not defy logical nor does is it repugnant and inimical to justice (Raymond Kaima et el 2017).Therefore, registration of customary rights is legal within the existing legal framework.


What are the features or steps that should be part of the process of documenting customary rights? 

What are the technologies that should be used?

What standards should be applied and what are the views of professionals of these participatory approaches? 

What experiences do we have from Zambia and other countries? 

Low cost approaches should be encouraged because of the vastness of customary land and due to the limited man power in the Country. There are less than 40 registered land surveyors in a country of more than 14 million.

The Land Survey Act in its current state provided for the use of aerial photography for registration of properties. It however does not state exactly how the registration should be done including acceptable photography resolutions and scales. There is need therefore to relax the national standards particularly in customary areas to facilitate for the registration of these areas if the national titling programme the Ministry of lands has embarked on was to be successful. The use of conventional methods and current standards will take us more than 1000 years to register all the land in the country.


Cost effectiveness is an important principle for a successful land administration system. For one to say that the technology is cost effective, the source codes should be easily accessible to the community and the land fraternity/land eco-system in Zambia. There is no need for instance of seeking a land expert to configure the software whenever need arises.

Fit for purpose technologies such as the use of aerial imagery to capture boundaries and not so high end GPS equipment could be used to capture boundary information together with all attributes related to the land. Accuracy standards as stipulated in the Land Survey Act and its regulations would have to be relaxed to allow for the use of less accurate. Tools such as Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST) should be encouraged as they are not only open source but they can be taught to local communities easily. The Social Tenure Domain Model could be used as a tool as it is pro-poor.


Both, traditional authorities and the Government of Zambia have important roles to play in documenting customary rights. Each are supported by development partners, international donors, civil society and the private sector who facilitate and empower the community to document their land rights.

We at UN-Habitat believe that the process must be a fully participatory process at all levels and inclusive of the community, the local leaders, and the government.

It should be balanced in terms of gender

There should be wide sensitization of any form of land documentation to avoid conflict; given the sensitivities of land issues.

Once the data is collected, a clear procedure for data validation should be in place.

The process should put community empowerment at its center with communities able to carry on with the process for example regular updating of data.

Finally, there is a need for identification of local champions/opinion leaders/elders who can further the cause on registration of community land rights using appropriate cost effective technology.

As far as technology: Fit-for-Purpose land administration solutions are necessary that include, open source geospatial technology that can be easily accessed by communities. It should also allow direct access of data by the communities and the local community should be able to store and update information.

A good example is the Social Tenure Domain Model, an open source model which has been implemented in three villages of Chamuka Chiefdom. STDM captures person/s to land relationships cognizant of the land rights continuum and supports all forms of land rights and claims, (formal, intermediate and non-formal). It is a pro-poor, gender responsive, participatory and affordable land in-formation system and has proven to be community friendly in terms of learning and skills transfer.

(ii) National Standards should not be relaxed per say; what needs to be done is the incorporate Fit-for-Purpose land administration and move away from the conventional administration of land.

The Office of the Surveyor General needs to discuss with the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environment Protection to have uniform acceptable standards and models of exchanging data on whatever technology is to be used in documenting land rights (in case different development partners are engaged on these processes in Zambia). The standards on how data is being collected should be in line with the National Land Information System currently underway


Presently customary land is not formally valued, and cannot be legally sold, rented, or transacted among families, yet this market certainly exists both from traditional leaders to households and companies, as well as between households. As the policy framework is changing in Zambia, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being able to transact customary land and are there safeguards that can be put in place that would allow for transactions without conversion, for example restricting customary land sales to full-time residents of the chiefdom, or just to Zambians. The issue of foreign ownership of land is also a hot topic in Zambia at the moment.  

Who are the appropriate actors and what are their roles? Can traditional leaders do this alone? Can government do this alone and what are the structures to support them? 

Debates are raging between stakeholders as to which institutions can be well mandated to document customary rights. To me, traditional leaders are well placed in this category as they are the custodians of the land held under their custom, further, they know the culture and the terrain compared to proposals of certain govt. Ministries to get this mandate. Indeed their capacity needs to be built, and it goes no further than that.


Currently only the Ministry of Lands is legally mandated to document and register rights on land. Local communities (traditional authorities) and CSO may document such rights but such rights do not have full legal recognition although the Lands Act recognizes customary rights per se. Traditional authorities may know who owns what land where in their areas but normally do not document the land in an official register. This lends itself to the possible displacement of villagers and insecure tenure. There is need to develop local governance structures which will ensure flexible recording of rights as well as well as flexible Information and Technology systems which can grow over time. Although we can state that local communities are better suited to document their rights this can only happen if the communities are trained in methods of recording such rights. The information they capture could be in local land registers which would serve the purpose.


Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the land sector are prepared to document customary rights because they are on the ground and have won the trust of traditional leaders. The NGOs are also using low cost approaches which are cheaper and guarantee sustainability.


NGOs role in custoamry land document is to provide technical support to both traditional leaders and governement who have the mandate to do so. For example NGOs such as Land Alliances have staff that can support the process be it being done by governement or chiefs, necessary infrastcture required for the process etc. what is more welcome is working together chiefs, governement and NGOs as this work is a common calls and mamoth task that would take a thousand years if rules are not relaxed and different players do their on things


With all this important discussion, what are we saying about documentation of customary land? One would say that for Zambia documentation is critical for various reasons, such as promotion of tenure security, enhancing land development and good land governance including gender equality and prudent management.

Documentation however requires capacity development among various players in customary land administration, ranging from programme conception/planning, implementation (including people involvement) all the way through technical issues and achievement of results. Critical among these is role clarification as to what should do what, and importantly, not to leave the majority people behind but to carry them all the way. Further, resources are key in all these processes, which calls for political will, currently being enjoyed in Zambia, at least to some degree. The process of documentation would also help us learn and address latent historical issues that have not received enough attention in the past, as the country shapes its way forward.

An important question posed here is: what are the advantages and disadvantages of transferring or selling customary land? One would argue that transferring or selling, whichever term we would want to use, helps redistribute land and placing land in the hands of those who would better utilise it, either at present or in future. It would help increase incomes (and in fact wealth) among the sellers. The challenge, however, is that transferring customary land in the Zambian context would probably increase inequality as the better off are the ones who would access this land while the poor remain disadvantaged. Additionally, the inequalities would have long-term negative impacts as the majority are poor. Currently the majority rural can access land simply because the system provides it 'for free'. However, considering the low population density of the country (and that the market is already thriving), transferring could be considered, probably with some limitations. It however requires clear guidelines and functional law enforcement mechanisms.

“Cost effectiveness is an important principle for a successful land administration system. For one to say that the technology is cost effective, the source codes should be easily accessible to the community and the land fraternity/land eco-system in Zambia. There is no need for instance of seeking a land expert to configure the software whenever need arises.”

Achievements and areas for improvement in land documentation

“Current experience with land documentation in Zambia has achieved some positive results and some learning opportunities. For example:

Positive outcomes include:

  1. Heightened level of perceived tenure security among the locals
  2. Increased confidence to invest
  3. Local communities are empowered; Information is power
  4. Protection of women land rights
  5. Skills transfer; local communities are able to map their settlements using modern technology

Negative issues and areas for improvement include:

  1. Not all chiefdoms support women land rights
  2. Perception; some Chiefs question the interest of development partners, is it to pave way for investors and land grabbing?
  3. Land disputes among  community members and between headsmen (indunas).
  4. Tension between the chiefs and the government; the chiefs do not support any reduction of their power/influence on administering customary lands”

In 1996 I published an article (Mutale, E. ‘A Biblical View of Land Policy’ South African Journal of Surveying and Mapping’, Vol. 23, Part 6, Dec. 1996, pp325-332). In it I present eight land management principles. Although derived from the Bible, I believe these principles are relevant to this discussion and can find application in our modern society. After all, African culture is closer to the biblical Jewish way of life than to Western culture. The eight principles are appropriately summarised in the acronym  - ECCLESIA.

Equitable, Effective and Efficient

Fairness and justice should be characteristics of the land allocation system. Land management must be capable of producing desired results at a minimum cost to the public and the environment.

Community Origins and interest

A land management system must reflect the value systems and interests of the people it serves and not be an alien imposition.

Cheapness and Completeness

Original grants of land should be cheap enough to be afforded by all. Failure to which means-tested selective subsidies should be considered to enale the poorest of the poor in society to access land. 


There is a loose coincidence of thought on the ownership of land between the biblical view and the African view. They both acknowledge that absolute ownership of the land does not vest in the individual. To the one it vests in God, to the other, in the community. The leasehold principle complements the equity principle by providing potential opportunities for redistribution.

Exclusive use-rights

The principle of private use-rights is widely practiced in Zambia, more so in urban areas. As for rural areas families and individuals tend to have exclusive use-rights to their fields.

Security of Tenure

A clear definition of boundaries, state guarantees, a system of registration, and an independent and accessible legal system are essential for securing use-rights

Intrinsic value of land

Whilst accepting the classical economic concept of the use and exchange value of the land, land management must be extended to embrace the intrinsic value of land. Land should not be valued only in relation to its use and exchange value, but also for its own sake.

Accessibility to all

Land should be made available to all. Mechanisms need to be worked out on who qualifies, where they qualify, when they qualify and how they should be enabled to access the land. Ensure that people do not lose their only land through being forcefully dispossessed or distress sales, or if they do, they are enabled to redeem their land.

You make a very important point, Emmanuel. Zambia is a declared Christian country, and as Kapya John Kaoma (Ubuntu, Jesus and Earth) writes:

"Throughout Africa, land is regarded as a public trust that belongs to the community of the past, present, and future generations. The living have access to the land but it is the duty of the living dead to safeguard  the interests of future generations. When Africans refer to ancestors as guardians of the land, they are pointing to the role of the “living-dead” in ensuring the rights of future generations to the land."


Irresistible point of discussion Ian. Yes, land needs to be preserved for the living, but the dead cannot preserve it for the living, for the Bible says "...the dead know not anything... neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 9 Verses 5 and 6). While this approach may have helped "Africa" promote tenure security for generations, it may not necessarily be sustainable as times change and as more and more people come to know the truth. We need to, also, move with time and as repeatedly discussed on this forum, to move into strengthening land administration systems through modern means. 

The ideal approach would be to build the capacity of existing traditional structures into a devolved land administration system.  Would we need a specially enacted Customary Land Act for the administration of customary land? We have a Land Act regulating State land, there is also a Customary Land Bill proposed to regulate customary land. There appears to be no strong support for converting customary to state land although there are calls to strengthen security of tenure in customary land to bring it on par with state land. I would suggest revising our Land Act by incorporation a separate section dealing with customary land administration.

As for financing of such a devolved model, we could consider piggybacking on the Urban and Regional Planning Regulations’ funding proposals for the formulation of Local Area Plans. In addition, the Customary Land Administration Bill (I seem to recall) proposes a Customary Land Development Fund into which proceeds from customary land transactions could be deposited. The Fund should be administered by traditional authorities for the benefit of the wider community. If not administered by traditional authorities, those charged with its administration should be accountable to traditional authorities.


The sale, transfer, renting of customary land is already happening as many of us will acknowledge. These transactions are going on between individuals but also between chiefs/headmen and individuals. We need a system that regulates such transactions and captures some of the benefits from these transactions into the customary land development fund for the  greater good of the community. Recognising and regulating for such transactions will help us begin to address the paradox of ‘a people rich in land yet poor’ by unlocking the full potential of customary land. I also concur with the view that in cases of those huge failed private or government projects, where customary land had been converted to state land, there should be the option for the traditional authorities to apply for a reversion of such land back to customary land.

In reviewing the 1996 National Housing Policy we found that this policy had largely not delivered on its objectives due to the following two main reasons. The funding proposal failed to take account of the weak economy characterised by high inflation and high interest rates at the time of its formulation. In addition there was no strategy on how the policy was to be implemented. We need to learn lessons from past policy failures. Current discussions on this topic are skewed and do not reflect the views of all major stakeholders. We need broad based strategic thinking which takes account of the national development aspirations but is also realistic on what can and cannot be done.

We need to differentiate between the documentation that is being undertaken in various chiefdoms and the registration of title as governed by statutes such as the Lands and Deeds Registry and Land Survey Acts. There is no law which prevents any chiefdom from documenting the land rights of their subjects as part of their land administration structure. But as the law currently stands, such documentation cannot be equated to land registration which is regulated by the two Acts above. Of course we can amend the laws to reflect what would be in our developmental interests as a nation especially with respect to strengthening customary land tenure and unlocking its economic potential. The National Land Titling Programme and the ongoing trials in the documentation of traditional land have sharpened community understanding of the processes leading to, objectives and benefits of secure land tenure including rights and obligations. There is a momentum and relationships which have been developed during these documentation exercises on which we can ride as we seek to build on the strengths of our customary land tenure administration. As for actors, we need to acknowledge that this is a technical and political process. We will need the active engagement of a wide array of actors e.g. Traditional Authorities, Government, CSOs, Private Land Surveyors, Lawyers etc. None of the foregoing groups of people have the knowledge, skills  and capacity to undertake this exercise single handedly. It has to be a collaborative effort.


I agree with you on all accounts and struggle with the question on how best to establish a collaborative approach to land documentation (and registration)... What is the main challenge for scaling a large-scale documentation process: funding, methodologies, capacities, prioritization? 

Dear Colleagues, 

As we enter the last week of the Land Portal Dialogue, we reserved questions related to impacts and opportunities for scaling up land documentation processes. 

We would ask contributors to reflect on: 

1. Achievements and areas for improvement in land documentation; 

2. Evidence of positive or negative impacts of land documentation (including individual stories); 

3. Ideas on how to increase transparency and sharing of data between customary and state authorities; 

4. How land documentation can be used for land-use planning and service delivery; 

5. How to build on current experiences for: a) sustainability in customary areas; and for informing the National Land Titling Program. 


Between 2013 and 2018, USAID undertook an evaluation of the impact of customary land documentation through the Tenure and Global Climate Change Program (TGCC).

The primary objective of the TGCC impact evaluation is to determine whether and how village and household tenure interventions strengthen smallholder tenure security and resource rights and, in turn, lead to increasing farmer investment in sustainable agroforestry and increased adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture practices.

The IE is a four-arm randomized control trial, designed to assess direct and joint impacts of agroforestry extension and customary tenure strengthening on four outcomes, including:

  •  changes in household perceptions of tenure security over smallholdings;
  •  household uptake of agroforestry;
  • changes in planned and actual agricultural investment; and
  •  livelihood improvements.

Baseline data collection took place in July - August 2014 and consisted of household and headperson surveys, focus group discussions (FGDs), and key informant interviews. Endline data collection took place in July - August 2017.  The evaluation assesses the impact of the TGCC program on household, village and field level outcomes using four primary sources of baseline and endline data from 285 communities: 3390 household surveys, 285 headperson surveys, 568 key informant interviews, and 62 FGDs.

  • There is strong evidence that TGCC has a positive impact on perceptions of improved tenure security. Households receiving the customary land tenure intervention are more likely to express confidence that their farmland is secure from internal and external sources of encroachment or reallocation, including other households in their village, the headman, the chief, or investors.
  • For households receiving the customary tenure intervention, there is evidence of increased long term and labor/cost intensive field investments, including planting basins, rotating crops, fallowing, and fertilizer application. This suggests that having increased tenure security does encourage the adoption of some CSA technologies.
  • There is no evidence that strengthening land tenure motivated higher rates of agroforestry investment, with the exception of female-headed households who see marginal increases in tenure security. At this point in time, insecure tenure does not appear to be an influencing factor in farmer’s decisions to engage in agroforestry.
  • The evaluation does not find evidence that farmers have experienced changes in agricultural productivity or crop yields at this stage. The program also does not appear to change farmer’s perceptions of their customary leaders, nor their engagement in land management issues in their community.

Data sharing has been one of the major challenges in Zambia. To avert this the Ministry of lands through the office of the surveyor general is establishing the  National Spatial Data Infrastructure with a geoportal that will allow different stakeholder access and share fundamental spatial data. If data received from civil society and NGOs that document land rights in customary areas, transparency in land administration could be enhanced and this can result into the reduction of displacements of customary land inhabitants of occupants as the data could be used during the screening process of land to be offered to investors or otherwise in customary areas.


Spatial Data sharing is very important as it allows for collection of data once instead of each institution collecting the same data for its purpose. There is need to define core datasets and their standards as well as the custodians and producers of such data sets. Policy will have to be formulated to allow for an open data system that allows for sharing information on online platforms. The National Spatial Data Infrastructure is one platform that seeks to share data for all land related matters. Local communities would be able (assuming internet connectivity) to view the areas that have been documented. Clearly capacity would have to be built in customary authorities for this to happen.


The experiences from customary pilots are very important for the Government as they will learn from the institutions that have succeeded on the ground thereby avoid unnecessary mistakes especially during the implementation of the National Titling Programme where low cost approaches to land registration will be used.


With government’s intention to do systematic registration, the methods such as MAST will have to be adopted. Linking of the local registers e.g. as developed through STDM with the national land registration system would enhance the national titling process. For this to happen the regulatory framework that governs land registration will need to be worked on to make it more amenable to systematic land registration systems. A fit-for-purpose approach anchored on three principles i.e.

1)  Relaxation of the technical standards in data collection using appropriate tools such as aerial images and mobile apps for field surveys

2)  Developing a flexible legal framework that will allow for a continuum of land rights to be documented.

3)  Developing an institutional framework which will include all partners(government, local communities, NGOs, CSOs and traditional authorities) working together to develop land governance structures that minimize bureaucracy.


Mobile tools are best suited for transferring information over limitless distances in an extremely cost-effective way. Mobile tools that have already been created for the health sector have been created with simplicity in mind, meaning users with less technical experience can transfer and use information easily. In both the health sector and the land sector, the ultimate goal is to get timely, accurate information into the hands of decision-makers. In the health sector, this could be a rural health facility reporting on the patients they are treating, and for which ailments. A patient ID is created, and every time they visit a health facility their information is easily tracked, allowing for better patient care and health centre preparation.

The problems facing land work are much the same. Following family changes or changes in ownership, a landowner in a village may request a parcel demarcation. At this point, much like a patient ID, a parcel ID can be created and used to track any future changes made on that piece of land. This allows for greater transparency, predictability, and can help establish proof of ownership.


Interesting indeed. Probably one key point to consider in this sense is how to deal with the issue of sensitivity of data collected so as not to compromise the interests of the 'owners', particularly if such information is gathered without sufficient knowledge by those volunteering it. If not well handled, this could act as a mover or disincentive to progress in land documentation. therefore investing in awareness/knowledge sharing is key.

Dear Participants,

Week 2 was yet another interesting week during which we discussed and exchanged views, experiences and ideas about Documenting Customary Rights – How to do it and what we can improve. This discussion built on the first week’s that focused on understanding the Context and Challenges of Customary Land in Zambia.

Submissions during week 2 recognised the challenges of documenting customary rights and approaches to doing it better. These challenges include:

  • Customary land and associated rights are embedded in values and norms which are orally bequeathed, and consequently, lost with the dying of the old generation. review and develop a national customary land administration Act and Regulations built on the common practices from various parts of the country;
  • There is an apparent antagonising disconnect between customary law and state law in ways that reflect difficulties in the co-habitation of the two to achieve national development objectives. Development programs in national interest cannot be undertaken on customary land, unless the tenure is converted;
  • The power dynamics between traditional leaders and the state are hugely in favour of the state. Prospects of enforcing customary law without government interference cannot be ascertained. In additional, there is ‘failure to resist temptation’ and bowing to ‘pressure from outside’ of chiefdom that compromise the chiefs’ ability to govern customary land equitably;
  • The Comprehensive National Land Policy that is still awaiting validation has been silent on important issues such as the shrinking of land that is under traditional leadership due to large scale land acquisitions (LSLAs) and land acquisitions owing to land speculation. It lacks provisions on the reversion of land tenure in the event that converted land has not been developed. LSLAs for Economic Multi-Facility Zone and other purposes lead to involuntary displacements across the country;
  • Decentralisation holds promise in improving land governance at local levels, however, the financial implications are too enormous to ensure in place a devolved, transparent, inclusive and accountable institutional framework;
  • The thought that there is too much land in Zambia persists, and this is partly attributed to lack of evidence to pin down the ratio of customary land to state land;  
  •  Media fetishisation of land governance ills does not raise the profile of good land governance efforts, working right and success stories such as land documentation in Chief Sandwe and elsewhere; and
  • The land governance system in Zambia remains plagued with weak institutional frameworks and infrastructure.

In the face of these challenges, documenting customary land rights remains an unquestionable imperative. More than that, it is also legal within the existing legal framework, and a preserve of traditional authorities. Documentation and customary tenure are not conflictual. Actually, the less than one-third cases of chiefdom documentation in the country demonstrate that it (documentation) is a possible process, and needs to be scaled up. Documentation requires that land be audited. National Spatial Data Infrastructure with a geoportal that will allow different stakeholder access and share fundamental spatial data that is being done at the Surveyor Genera is in the right direction. The process is important in the sustainability discourse as it can incentivise land use initiatives that take care of the needs of the people and environment.

Moving forward on documenting customary land, we need to focus on the process first. We also need a new low-cost approach to document customary lands, a fit-for-purpose approach needs to be embraced to make the process cost effective. The documentation process needs to be as practical as possible. Relaxation of the technical standards in data collection using appropriate tools such as aerial images and mobile apps for field surveys; developing a flexible legal framework that will allow for a continuum of land rights to be documented; and developing an institutional framework which will include all partners(government, local communities, NGOs, CSOs and traditional authorities) working together to develop land governance structures that minimize bureaucracy can potentially make the process more practical and fit for purpose. Documenters of customary land rights need to be identified and be given a clear mandate so that the benefits of land documentation are maximised and negative issues, minimised.  Issues to be considered in the process include:

  • Strengthening rural governance institutions to enable a synergistic operation of both customary law and state law. This needs to take into account the need to train Chiefs in appropriate skills and knowledge for sound customary land governance. This will offer an opportunity to Chiefs to work with more autonomy while making better informed decisions about the use of their land. Building the capacity of existing traditional structures into a devolved land administration system is critical;
  • Protect rights by allowing for joint claims or registration of persons of interest or allowing claims to be made on behalf of a group (if there are multiple overlapping claims on the same land for the same use). Additionally, documenting ‘shared resources’ such as grazing grounds should also be encouraged. This is already being done in Chipata and Petauke. As best practice, this needs to be scaled up in other areas;
  • Overlapping of statutory and customary land right is not necessarily a bad thing as it increases the choices and options of forums available for people (especially women) to negotiate and defend their land rights. It is also possible for the statutory and customary land rights to complement each other in ways that reinforce and strengthen land claims;
  •  Given the gaps in the pieces of legislation related to land governance in Zambia, a Customary Land Act or an expansion of the Land Act to include a section customary land issues should be considered, including customary land information system; and
  • Establishing an appropriate customary governance model with a representation comprising local authorities, technocrats at district and other relevant stakeholders. This can (potentially) improve the governance of land at local level, despite the financial implications that this will entail. This calls for concerted efforts in mobilizing needed resources to make customary land documentation a reality.

Township expansion to accommodate the growing population needs about 194 000 Ha of land in Zambia. This comes with challenges such as the expansion occurring well before any development comes to an area and the selling of customary land. Township expansion usually advantages traders, businesses and those who had money and interest in building houses while traditional structures are left to deal with these resettlement challenges.

Dear all,

Friday 2nd February is World Wetlands Day and Zambia has 8 Wetlands of International importance called Ramsar Sites. As we deliberate on land in the final week i hope we also consider documenting these very important land marks. Thank you all

Great! Nsama,

We need to take stock of all shared resources in the country and develop clear rules and responsibilities of their management

Thank you Nsama and Moses,

Does anyone have insights on the best ways to integrate the household land documentation work, with the mapping of shared resources and rural land-use planning?

First, do you think that rural land-use planning can/will work in the Zambian context (it is certainly forseen in the URP Act, but is it practical).

Secondly, is anyone seeing how household and resource mapping in the Chipata, Petauke, Chamuka, or other rural documentation efforts, are leading to changes in resource management?


Dear Matt, 

Yes Rural Land Use Planning can work in the Zambian context if all traditional leaders where educated on the subject. I say so because whenever government engages traditional leaders on issues of development, they in some way plan together,meaning for chiefs to be able to allocate land to government for development they somehow do a land survey to assess where the proposed project can be placed. If government and traditional leaders sat together to plan, there could be an accurate record of number of households in each village, chiefdom, ward and constituency because most constituencies cover large areas of rural land. The statistics would become more accurate and they could work together to ensure that shared resources are well managed.

As it is today, most protected areas such as National parks and GMAs are in rural land but the locals are not getting involved in conservation because traditional leaders have not guided them on how to get involved. If rural people developed a sense of ownership of resources, they would definately take part in deceision making and management.

The case of Chipata, Petauke and Chamuka has been admired by many. Am so sure that if all chiefdoms would replicate what they are doing, customary land would have more value and meaning.

Not to stray from the topic but as an advocate Luapula Province would benefit alot from such a project as in Eastern because most areas have been marked for large scale investments such as oil exploration which will cover vast land in over 4 districts, Refugee camp to host about 78, 000 refugees, hydro power station on most falls to mention but a few. Without documentaion most people will be displaced and the rural areas will still remain undeveloped.

In conclusion planners must work hand in hand with traditional leaders and also attach value to land so people can be compenseted fairl in cases of relocation.

The vesting of resources which are on customary land into the president must also be explained clearly so that chiefs can understand their roles and responsibilities( or perharps since we have two tenure systems some resources can be vested in chiefs because they are actually found on their land)

Dear Matt, Collecting Information on Shared Resources: During village meetings, communities undertake standard participatory rural appraisal mapping approach where the village draw their boundaries and resources. A new grid is subsequently established to nest within Zambia’s 1:50,000 topographic map atlas, which, when printed with high resolution imagery including from Quickbird, WorldView-2, and GeoEye through a Digital Globe license, allowed for identification of resource types on the ground by local communities. Bringing these resource maps to communities allow community members to transcribe their participatory maps onto imagery printed on A1 map sheets. The collection of spatial data is done based on the needs of the facilitator, including, through drawing on a physical map, collecting boundary points through a walk, drawing polygons on a tablet screen, or for specific locations, collection of point data. The following land uses are catalogued: • Agriculture, • Grazing areas/wetland agriculture, • Graveyard, • Forest/Bush, • Hills, which frequently may also include forest/bush or mining or wildlife, • Settlements, • Wildlife, or • Mining. Additionally options for numerous types of points are also collected. Each resource identified by the community is subsequently labelled and the local tenure and management regime associated with it is collected. Each resource is classified as: • private, • community managed, • communally managed by multiple villages, • communally managed at an area or chiefdom level, • open access, or • government managed. If resources were communally managed, the villages that engaged in the management are identified, allowing the team to develop maps that effectively demonstrate the area of customary interest of each community. The availability of these tenure regimes may form a basis for documenting and securing both community rights, as well as areas reserved for individualized/family/private rights in the future. Following this process, household mapping is done so you have a layer of shared resources and household parcels on a map. This information is important for land use planning at chiefdom level even at district and government level. This is a practical step having been tried in petauke Zambia by the Land Alliance

Methodological advances in computing, positioning and mapping techniques have lowered the cost of large scale property documentation/registration considerable. This has been demonstrated in the just completed TGCC project and other pilot projects within Zambia. Albeit, there are other challenges of a political, technical, institutional/legal nature which would impact on the roll out of documentation process.

Of a political nature, the programme still needs to be ‘sold’ to the other two-thirds of Zambia’s approximate 300 chiefdoms where there isn’t some form of documentation taking place. This could be done with the help of traditional authorities in ‘compliant’ chiefdoms explaining the benefits of documentation to the other chiefs. The other political challenge relates to data sharing, unless the data are made accessible on a central repository such as the NSDI which holds other spatial and attribute data, the aggregate potential of these datasets may not be fully realized. There would be need to demonstrate the wider benefits of data sharing and facilitate for the joint development of data sharing protocols involving all stakeholders (those providing and those collecting the data).

Of a technical nature,it has long been observed that our traditional approach of stringent  cadastral mapping for land titling purposes has struggled to produce the desired results – hence the perpetual survey backlog. Using this approach we have managed to register a meager 200,000 titles. This represents a paltry 1% of the potential 15million titles nation wide. Admittedly survey productivity has gone up with the widespread use on GNSS technology. However, there is still need to revise our cadastral standards to take account of the task at hand, available technologies and relative value of urban and rural land.

Of an institutional and legal nature, our current land administration framework was designed at a time of slow population growth and mainly to serve a small white settler community. Social, economic and demographic changes which have occurred particularly in the last 20 or so years require that we streamline our land administration framework in ways which will enable it respond to the national development goal of systematic land registration/documentation. Current land administration institutions exist mainly for the benefit of state land, but even these lack the requisite resources (technical and human) to work effectively. A national registration/documentation process will require the strengthening of existing institutions (where weak ones exist) and the creation of new ones where no institutions exist. This is perhaps the most pressing challenge to a large scale registration/documentation process. In a decentralized system of government, we are talking of several institutional layers of land governance – village, Chiefdom, district, provincial and national. Similarly, the legal framework will need to be reviewed to reflect new realities. The TGCC programmehas demonstrated that potential exists to work with local people and build skills at village and chiefdom level. It remains to be seen if this can translate into independent institutions able to sustain themselves long after the first registration/documentation is done.

Reviewing and clarifying existing legislation and if need be enacting new laws to enable the rapid systematic registration/documentation of land commensurate with existing technologies.

Demographic pressures within urban areas coupled with their high economic potential suggest that these areas could be a priority. The Ministry of Lands is contemplating using rectified aerial photographs to prepare diagrams for registration purposes. These areas are considered less problematic (politically) and offer potential for cost recovery and also improved ground rent revenue.

As for the national documentation of customary land, I would suggest that efforts are first targeted at less problematic areas in terms of local/national politics. Hopefully we can demonstrate positive outcomes in the priority areas to be able to persuade other chiefdoms to take part. Other factors to be considered are population pressures and level of economic activity.

There is no doubt that the Rwandan experience of a successful national land titling programme has inspired other countries in the region (Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia etc) to also consider mass titling programmes. Technological advances have made first time systematic mass registration a reality. The challenge however is how to maintain the land records system by the continual updating of data within the system occasioned by changes in land holdings.

A word of caution – what worked in Rwanda may not necessarily work in Zambia. The practice of democratic principles are very different within the two countries. My gut instinct is that for mass documentation to succeed and be sustained in Zambia, the people must want it. It should be sensitive to the culture and needs of the community. It cannot be an imposition from above or from outside it must be demand driven. From my reading of the TGCC project, the documentation of customary land rights in the two chiefdoms in Eastern province appears to have taken account of these sensitivities and seems to have been well received.

There is a danger that we all get carried away with the technological advances in data capture, storage and manipulation at the expense of what is really important for the people for whom the data documentation system is being developed. Sustaining the system will depend on the level of knowledge and skills within the community. Outside agencies/experts need to work with the local communities to document the land. Such an approach has the twin benefits of keeping the costs down but also empowers the local people with knowledge and skills to be able to maintain the system.

A simple, flexible, freely accessible and cheap to maintain locally based secure system with provision to link to other systems has a greater chance of being managed locally. It should then be possible at a later date to link this to the district, provincial and national systems. This local system could be designed to use open source (rather than vendor owned) software which runs on a tablet or mobile phone thus greatly cutting down on setup and maintenance costs.

Simple, Cheap and Local are key factors in building a sustainable large scale customary land documentation system.

Thank you Caleb for sharing the evaluation findings. Impressed with the impact evaluation design – RCTs are the gold standard of research. I think the evaluation ticks all the boxes in terms of design. It is a pity that the project could not demonstrate positive measures on two outcomes. This could be because it is  too soon after the completion of the project for some outcomes to be observable. On the uptake of agroforestry, it could well be the case that communities are more focused on the immediate survival issues – food and quick cash crops, rather than concern themselves with lofty sounding ecological issues or indeed wait years to harvest the trees .  On changes in agricultural productivity, there are numerous other factors apart from security of tenure which could affect productivity. Among them: rainfall, soil quality, labour, capital, producer prices, knowledge of and practice of key husbandry methods etc. In the absence of the full report, not sure how these factors were controlled for in the evaluation.

Possible uses of large scale land documentation include rapid assessment of the structure and size of land ownership. Overlaid with remotely sensed imagery, experts are able to determine types of land use, crop yields, planning for disaster prevention and mitigation.

At present, rural housing is characterized by insufficient infrastructure support such as water and sanitation, energy, health, education facilities and other economic and social amenities. This is mainly due to the dispersed settlement patterns prevalent in many rural areas, making service provision cost ineffective. The situation is not helped by the lack of complete and up to date information on settlement patterns and population levels. With land documentation, service providers have the necessary data to plan on how these areas can be supplied with services.

  1. Customary, community, and communal land in Zambia: What are we talking about? 
    1. What is the role of customary/traditional authorities in a modern state? T. Haller: These are important for local governance, however one needs to check on their local legitimacy as they often stem from the colonial system and often only represent parts of local heterogeneous communities. An illustration are chiefs among the Ila in the Kafue Flats (See Haller 2013)
    2. What tools are needed to manage rural and peri-urban land? TH: Important tools are a) understanding how resources were managed in the past, meaning institutions that local groups have developed and how these have been changed such as property rights. In many parts common property institutions have been undermined since colonial times and people lack a sense of ownership of fisheries, wildlife, water, pasture, forest. b) Make use of a more participatory approach to locally developed institutions such as by-laws to the fishery law for example could be the way (see Haller et al 2016 on Constitutionality)
    3. Customary land and state forest, wildlife, and minerals: What is the value of documenting land rights when resource rights rest with the state? TH: The value is high because one can show where the problems in the failure of management lies and one can try to find was to get out of this trap (see Constitutionality approach above)
  1. Documenting customary rights at scale: 
    1. Legal Framework: Is it legal? TH:These are often in final ownership of the state or of private persons. Within chiefdoms these might be seen as more communal but chiefs often have a high level of power and might give out long term leasehold titles.
    2. What institutions are prepared to document: government, CSOs, private sector? TH: Let national and international scholars and researchers conduct a large scale research project in order to document this issue in collaborations ith local communities (co-research)
    3. What are the most important pieces from a process perspective? TH: Historical reflections and a participatory gender and minority sensitive approach
    4. How to from a technology perspective? TH: see above
    5. How can we reduce costs? TH: Research funding agencies and local involvement
    6. Potential unintended consequences: Impacts on women, youth, and vulnerable populations? TH: Non if we get everybody involved (see research on fishery by-laws in Haller and Merten 2018)
  1. Customary land administration: How to avoid creating a snapshot in time? 
    1. How to increase transparency and sharing of data between customary and state authorities using online platforms? TH: these is also a need to create physical discussion platforms and to visit areas again and again!
    2. What low-cost tools can be used to register changes? Local teams of well educated people: I had very good experience with research assistants. Many social anthropologists have done research in Zambia, they all have and had research assistants! 
    3. How can services be bundled for chiefs and communities? TH: To be discussed in similar ways as the by-law process in fisheries (see Haller et al 2016, Haller and Merten 2018)
    4. How to build a use case: 
      1. What is the interest ranging from land use planning and service delivery to taxes and restrictions? TH: Sustainable use of resources with a conscious local population via sense of ownership for bottom up creation of institutions (rules of the game for resource management)
      2. What is the interest of private sector in customary land documentation? TH: Might be more accountable deals, however I have my reservations with the private sector in this regard.
      3. How does documentation change the actions of smallholder farmers, evidence from impact evaluation? TH: There is a fruitful process of discussions and collection if ideas as well as a social learning process
  1. Opportunities for scaling: 
    1. Who can pay for mass documentation? National Science Foundations and Development Corporations (see the Swiss Research FOr Development Program (R4D)
    2. How to support customary authorities while respecting their differing needs?TH: See again the constitutionality approach. Let us also be careful with only looking at customary authorities!

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