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Gender and Land Rights Database


The country is a federation of ethnically-based administrative states. Its population in 2005 was estimated at 74 661 000, of which 37 117 000 were men and 37 544 000 were women. Eighty-three percent of the population lived in rural areas in 2005 (1). Women accounted for 50 percent of the rural population in 2004 (2). The population density in 2005 was 68 people per square kilometre (3). 

In 2007, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at US$19.4 billion; while GDP per capita was US$245 (4). Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for more than eight out of ten people (5). Agriculture accounted for 43.8 percent of GDP in 2009; industry and services accounted for 13.2 percent and 43 percent respectively (6). In 2005, the agricultural sector employed 85 percent of the economically active population (6). Although the country has a potential for agricultural development, only about 20 percent of the total arable land area is cultivated.

Additionally, agricultural production is extremely vulnerable to climatic conditions and the disruptive impact of war and civil conflict, which have led to a number of policy reversals since 1990. Subsistence, rainfed farming system dominates agriculture. Almost 12 million smallholder farmers produce about 95 percent of agriculture’s share of GDP. However, more than half of the country’s smallholders have 1 hectare or less of land. The main crops include coffee, cereals, maize, sorghum, wheat, barley and millet. Cereals account for about 70 percent of the agricultural GDP (5).

With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.414 in 2007, the country ranks 171st out of 179 countries measured (4). In 2005, 39 percent of the total population lived below the US$1 per day poverty line (7). Data from 2004 illustrated that 46 percent of the total population was undernourished and 38.4 percent of children under the age of five were underweight in 2005 (7). In 2007, life expectancy at birth was 56.2 years for women and 53.3 years for men. Country education records demonstrate the enduring disparity between female and male literacy rates; in 1997–2007, the adult literacy rate was 22.8 percent among women and 50.8 percent among men (4).

In 2005, 12 753 000 women were active in agriculture, accounting for 45 percent of the agricultural labour force and 77 percent of all economically active women (1).

Land reform was implemented in 1998 (8). As a result, systematic registration and user-right certification have taken place in four regions: in the Tigray region since 1998 and in the Amhara, Oromiya and Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region since 2002 (9). Since 1998, more than 5 million certificates have been delivered, which is the largest delivery of non-freehold rights in such a short time period in sub-Saharan Africa. The new federal and regional land-use proclamations are the basis of the land reform and they include more detailed rules and regulations for improving tenure security for land users, promoting land conservation and facilitating investment (8).

Land is state property and citizens have user rights. Inheritance of user rights is allowed, but land use rights may not be mortgaged. Foreign investors are permitted to mortgage leased land (9).

Unlike the rest of the country, the Tigray regional state has a gender-progressive land proclamation and progressively implements it. Here, land registration took place very early and both husbands and wives have equal rights to land: land is registered under both of their names and upon separation and dissolution of marriage, they take away equal shares of the land.

Nevertheless, despite the legal provisions of federal and regional laws envisaging joint land certification of husbands and wives, rural women still do not have effective access to land resources. In certain areas, such as the southern part of the country, land reforms have not yet been fully endorsed because of traditional patriarchal practices or beliefs centred on male domination, where women’s access to land is not officially recognized (8).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography