Gender and Land Rights Database


The estimated population in 2005 was 11 478 000, of which 5 712 000 were male and 5 766 000 were female (1). In the same year, the population density was 15 people per square kilometre (1). The rural population in 2005 was 7 460 700, representing 65 percent of the total population (2), making the country one of Africa’s most urbanized (3). In 2007, 80.8 percent of the men and 60.3 percent of the women aged 15–64 were economically active (4).

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2001 was USD 3 639 million (3). Agriculture contributed about 22 percent of GDP, services 52 percent, manufacturing 11 percent, mining 4 percent and other sectors 11 percent (3). In 2004, per capita GDP was USD 353 (5). Per capita GDP dropped by 13 percent between independence in 1964 and 1980 and fell by another 20 percent in the decade to 1990 (3). When the country gained its independence, it was a major copper producer. For many years, copper and associated mineral production dominated the economy and contributed about half of GDP. In the 1970s and 1980s, the decline of the mining sector and falling international copper prices contributed to worsening the country’s economic performance. Recovery began with structural reforms, introduced in the early 1990s, to deregulate what once was a centrally-planned model. Copper continues to account for most of the country’s foreign exchange earnings (5).
The primary agricultural sector contributes about 22 percent of GDP, while the combined agro-food complex accounts for more than 40 percent of GDP (3). The economically active population engaged in agriculture in 2004 comprised 2 910 000 people (6) or 67 percent of the total labour force, with a per capita agricultural GDP of USD 92 (9). Crops and livestock contribute 65 percent and 35 percent, respectively, to agricultural value-added. The main food crops are maize [which is the main staple], sorghum, cassava and millet. Cash crops, including cotton, tobacco and vegetables, are gaining importance (5). The agricultural sector also produces raw materials for other industries; however, crop production fluctuates widely with rainfall. The country’s agricultural production is still dominated by small-scale farms cultivating landholdings of 1 to 5 ha. (5). Agricultural smallholders comprise 75 percent of the farming population (3). As of 2004, there were about 800 000 smallholders cultivating 1−5 ha of land.

In 2006, with a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.453, the country ranked 163rd out of the 179 countries measured (7). In 2004, 75 percent of the country’s population lived below the national poverty line and 64.3 percent lived under the USD 1 per day poverty line (8). In rural areas, 83.1 percent of all people live below the national poverty line compared with 56 percent of those residing in urban areas (8). About half the country’s children are stunted (2). The number of undernourished people in 2001−2003 was 5.1 million, making up 47 percent of the entire population (9). Life expectancy at birth was 43 years at independence in 1964; it rose to 51 years in 1980, but declined again to 40.5 years in 2005, mainly because of HIV/AIDS (3). The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the adult population was 12.9 percent for men and 17.8 percent for women in 2002 (8). One in four households cares for at least one orphan and 8 percent of households below the national poverty line have recently lost an adult family member (3). The child mortality rate in 2003 was 182 per thousand live births (9). In 2007, literacy rates were 60.7 percent for women and 80.8 percent for men aged 15 and above (4).

In rural areas, women contributed 75 percent of farm labour in 2004, in addition to collecting water and fuelwood (3). Traditionally, women are responsible for producing all the subsistence food for the household. They also provide most of the labour for their husband’s fields that produce a cash crop, usually maize. In addition, wives produce their own cash crops, often as surplus from their subsistence production of vegetables and groundnuts, which can provide them with their own, independent cash income. Therefore, women are particularly active as traders and marketers, especially in the food market. Women heads of household, who accounted for about 20 percent of the total household heads in rural areas in 2000, mostly live on much smaller farms – on land perhaps allocated by a father, uncle or brother, since the chief normally allocates land only to men. Because they don’t live in as full a family unit, female heads of household almost always are short of land, short of labour for traditional male tasks and overburdened with domestic labour (10). Additionally, women-headed households generally have poorer access to animal draught power, which limits the area they can crop (5).

Through the enactment of the Land (Conversion of Titles) Act of 1975, all land was vested in the President and all freehold estates were converted to 99-year leases. Land could not be sold except for the developments such as buildings and farm infrastructure. All undeveloped land and most forms of rented property were acquired by the central or local government. However, customary land could not be alienated without the consent of the customary leaders. With the 1995 Lands Act, all former reserves and trust land were consolidated into customary land. The Act repealed The Land (Conversion of Titles) Act, yet all land continues to vest in the President who is required to give consent to a person who wishes to sell, transfer or assign any land. These powers are delegated to the Commissioner of Lands. The Act further continues to recognize customary tenure, although any person who holds land under customary tenure may convert the holding to a lease, not exceeding 99 years, or any other title that the President may grant (11). Customary land covers 94 percent of the country.

Under customary law, women may access land only through male relatives such as a husband, father or brothers. Daughters cannot inherit land and women are most likely to be dispossessed from land upon divorce or death of the husband. Although women are allowed to own land under statutory law, customary practices and legal provisions regarding inheritance and marriage, such as legal clauses that forbid joint ownership of land by married couples, restrict the rights and access of women to land (13).

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