1. land use conflicts and environmental degradation (e.g.,


Land tenure and forests property rights are one of global today’s most pressing development issues. More than two billion people worldwide land resources access are under customary tenures systems (USAID, 2013). Although many countries have completely restructured their legal and regulatory frameworks related to land, and tried to harmonize modern statutory law with the customary law (UN-Habitat, 2017). Insecure land tenure and property rights still exist in many countries around the world, especially in developing countries. The variation in land tenure settings considerably, reflecting the past and recent history of the countries, the different approaches selected by governments to improve land resources management, but also the growing voices of local stakeholders demanding recognition of their rights and a role in decision making. A diversification of forest tenure arrangements is taking place in various countries around the world as part of revised forest policies, laws and traditional land allocation systems. (FAO, 2014).

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In sub-Saharan Africa, most land has no registration of who owns it or has rights to use it (Toulmin, 2009). In most African countries, politicians and powerful groups are often dispossessed of the land on which they farm or, in urban areas, on which they have developed their home, while low classes population possess and depend on small plots. Such insecure land tenure in rural areas lead to land use conflicts and environmental degradation (e.g., deforestation, degradation of biodiversity, and desertification).

Rwanda’s land resources, patterns of land occupation and existing land tenure systems are characterised by high population growth, severe land pressure and an increasing number of small fragmented land plots combined with limited non-agricultural livelihood options have been severe conflicts that resulted in the 1994 genocide which have also weakened traditional land allocation systems. In the aftermath of the genocide, there was a lack of clarity over legal status and rights to land, with landowners returning to Rwanda to find their land occupied by others (Gillingham et al.,2014)). The government has engaged in a land sharing and reallocation programme to settle returning refugees and landless people. In 2004, the Government of Rwanda adopted the first-ever National land policy and land Law in 2005; to operationalize this law in 2008, the GoR initiated the land tenure regularization program (LTRP) which legalised land ownership by providing individuals with land titles. About 10.3 million parcels encompassing most of the private land in Rwanda have been demarcated in 2013, the LTRP has become a model for other African countries (Ayalew et al., 2012).

1.2.Objectives and Scope of the Paper

The main objective is to analyse the land tenure systems and forests in Rwanda. Specifically, the objectives are to:

•       Identify land administration and governance

•       Identify land and forests ownership categories

•       Assess land tenure regularization program process; and analyses its achievement and challenges.



The land tenure concept describes the bundle of rights by which state, individuals or groups acquire, hold, transfer or transmit land and land resources. Land tenure by referring to the relationships between people and land, land tenure defined legally or customarily by the rules invented by societies to allocate property rights over land, and grant (FAO,2002). Access to the use and control of land determine who can use what resources for how long and under what conditions.

2.1. State ownership of land

This system enables the state to be the owner of the land. The land which the State owns comes under its supervision through various methods. A piece of land comes under State ownership due to certain reasons like conquest, purchasing, gifts, and seizure. The USSR was the example where most of the land has been turned into state property a few days back when it practised socialism. In other socialist countries the state-owned half or more the half of the land (Kuhnen,1982). On the other side, state ownership plays a large role if public interests cannot be satisfied by private ownership this land can be transferred to the government’s stock.

Meanwhile, this system found under other form called land grants system which is mainly practised in Islamic countries, also known as “waqf”. The land is granted to schools, mosques, orphanages, and similar institutions. Usually, the government of that country bears all the costs regarding the land and the beneficiary receives an irrevocable piece of land. The profit is obtained by the institution that is established on the land. The irrevocable nature of the grant prevents eventual property loss and transfer of ownership. This type of grant was also found in the south of Europe and existed in Eastern Germany until 1945 where it was called “Fideikommis” (Kuhnen,1982).

2.2.Private ownership of land

The right of land disposition is in private hands. In face of the positive experience in European history and its great ability to adapt to changing economic and technological systems, private ownership of land was introduced in many of the former colonies. Actual population growth, differences in succession, and demand for space has always affected the decrease in land size. Two classifications of private ownership were developed according to the amount of land size available per individual:

Small land holding is usually the plot of land which belongs to the family and it practices farming on that land and produces the amount which is required to sustain themselvesLarge land holding is usually a plot of land which is rented out by the owner to several farmers who till the land and produce crops. Those farmers pay rent to the owners.

Farm tenancy is yet another method which is commonly practised in the name of land ownership, resulted from the population growth. Tenancy complain two forms which are occupational tenancy (is a way of payment where the tenant works for a specific number of days on the landlord’s farm to pay for the land he rents); this form, is commonly known in Latin America where it is called a colonate; and cash tenancy which is practiced around the world based on the amount of payment. Until a few years ago, it also existed in Westphalia, Germany as Heuerling. while in cash tenancy the tenant pays a fixed rent for the land he rents and carry the full cropping and marketing risk himself (Kuhnen,1982).

2.3.Customary or collective ownership

Customary systems have developed over time to meet a given community’s needs for tenure security. In many countries, customary informal tenure systems exist in addition to, and alongside, formal legal systems. (USAID, 2017). In this type of ownership, the right of disposition is in the hands of kinship or political groups that are larger than a single family.

In various countries such as Taiwan, India, and Jamaica, the land belongs to minorities in the form of common land. In socialistic countries, land was collectivized in accordance with the political doctrine to prevent exploitation resulting from private ownership of land while in Mexico, former latifundia were transferred into a form of communal land called “ejido”, the members of the community are granted land on a heritable basis for their usage, while pasture land and wasteland are used commonly. (Kuhnen,1982). 

In Africa, this form of communal ownership is widespread in south-Sahara the land rights are generally controlled by the tribe, and the use of the land is regulated by the chieftain or priest serving the land and earth deities (Gyasi, 1994).

2.4.Effect of land tenure systems on tropical forests management

Land tenure and forest property rights are critical issues for the new wave of incentive-based policy instruments that aim to safeguard public goods found in tropical forests (such as carbon, water, and biodiversity) by valuing the goods and the services they provide, and paying people to protect them (Bruce et al. 2010). Secure tenure helps prevent deforestation in some areas but does not change landholders underlying right to make land use decisions as they see fit. Access and security to land are important for adoption of forest use systems, on which the farmer has the right to plant trees, the right to harvest, use trees and sell them. When private rights to land are strong, the strength of an individual’s right to trees may depend on the strength of their right to the land. In this case, landowners are relatively advantaged, while those with temporary or weak claims to land may be relatively disadvantaged. But, where land tenure is communal and tree rights are strong, it appears that tree planters are advantaged in their right to trees particularly in the case of shifting cultivation.  


3.1. Data and methods

The paper comprises a review of recent literature relating to land tenure systems of different countries.

3.2.Description of study area

Rwanda is a hilly and landlocked country, nicknamed “Land of a thousand hills”, located in East Africa, between the 1°04′ and 2°51′ Southern Latitudes and between the 28°53′ and 30°53′ Eastern Longitudes. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda in the north, Tanzania in the East, Burundi in the South, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the West.  Rwanda has a total territorial area of 26,338 km2 with a population of 10,537,2221 with the average population density of 416 inhabitants per km2 (NISR, 2012).


Due to its high altitude, Rwanda enjoys a tropical-temperate climate. The average annual temperature ranges between 16 and 20°C, without significant variations. Rainfall is abundant generally well distributed throughout the year, although it has some irregularities. Rainfall ranges from about 900 mm in the east and southeast to 1500 mm in the north and northwest volcanic highland areas. Rwandan economy heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture and climate is of importance. It has one of the highest population densities in Africa, Population growth has resulted in increased scarcity and marketisation of land, tenure insecurity, and declining agricultural productivity. Land holdings have also been increasingly fragmented, the average household possesses five plots of land (Pritchard, 2012).

3.3.Evolution of land tenure in Rwanda

In pre-colonial Rwanda, land tenure systems were characterized by collective ownership of land among members of patrilineages for agriculture or herding. Family lineages were subdivided into clans, each of which was led by a clan chief. Land rights were well-respected and effectively managed under customary practices under the protection of the king (MINITERE, 2004).

In colonial times, the system known as ubuhake linked farmers and herders and defined land use patterns, whereby services were exchanged from one group for the use of cattle and land by the other. After the independence (1962), approximately 90% of the land was held under customary tenure; however, those systems had been irrevocably altered (MINITERE, 2004). 

In the 1970s, early 1980s this time, was characterised by the ever-increasing population pressure land resources also became scarcer, and land conflicts began to emerge. The extreme pressure on land and natural resources was leading to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which over one million people were killed, millions more were displaced, and the social and economic fabric of the country was destroyed (GoR, 2013). After the 1994 Genocide, the government provided housing and land for the refugees, the government degazetted portions of national parks and forests, parcelled out communal lands, and implemented land-sharing arrangements between owners and returnees. The land continued to be managed under both customary and statutory tenure systems. The first-ever National land policy was adopted in 2004 followed by land Law that was adopted in 2005. To operationalize the Land law in 2008, the GoR initiated the land tenure regularization program (LTRP) which aims was to legalise land ownership by providing individuals with land titles.


4.1.The land administration and governance institutions

Rwanda land tenure reform is part of a wider programme of public sector reform and decentralisation. This is structured around three separate functions in each sector:

•       a sector ministry responsible for policy making, coordination, budgeting and accountability to Parliament

•       service delivery decentralised to the districts

specialised agencies to provide technical and professional functions (see figure 3 above).


4.2.Land tenure categorization in Rwanda

Before 2004, two modes of land acquisition, namely acquisition according to customary law or conceptions, and acquisition according to the rules of the written law were allowed. Then after the establishment of the Organic Land Law of 2005, the individual land customarily owned before the 2005 law was registered under the new law (Abbot et al.,2015). Aftermath, the Law No 43/2013 governing land in Rwanda (which replaced the 2005 Organic Land Law) defines land tenure as the system by which land is held and describes rights, responsibilities and restrictions that are attached to the landholders. It recognizes the State as the sole authority to grant rights of occupation and use of land and provides for equal access to land rights without discrimination based on sex or origin. Two modes of land ownership exist in Rwanda are presented in table 1 revised from Sagashya (2012)



Table 1: Land tenure categories in Rwanda



Land tenure categories



State land

Consists all:
• Shores of lakes and rivers up to the length determined by an order of the Minister of environment,
• Land occupied by springs and wells and reserved swamps that may be productive in terms of agriculture and land occupied by state-owned forests, 
• Public gardens and tourist sites
• National reserves, natural forests national parks,
• State roads and their boundaries
• Land and administration buildings reserved for public activities.
• The vacant land that was retaken by the state with respect to confiscation mentioned in article 75 of the organic law.
• Land purchased by the state obtained through donation or land acquired through expropriation due to public use.

Local government land (Districts, Municipalities)

The state may donate land to any district, town or municipality for the public domain of the district and town or municipality and, they’ve owned it as a private land either reserved for the public domain but titled under the State land.


Individual/private land

The individual land is composed of the land acquired through custom or written law, land acquired from competent authorities, purchased land, gift, and exchange and sharing.


4.3.Land tenure ownership and forests management in Rwanda

All Rwandans are entitled to acquire land under an emphyteutic lease. In rural areas most agricultural and forest land, the leasehold period is 99 years, renewable, while terms are shorter in urban areas and for high-value agricultural areas like swamp-lands. Foreigners are entitled to emphyteutic leases up to 49 years (GoR, 2013). 

Therefore, the responsibility to conserve and protect land and forests shall rest with any person who is in Rwanda. The harvesting of a private forest of less than a half a hectare (1/2 ha) shall not require a license. However, to prevent consequences that may result from the simultaneous harvesting of adjacent forests, the forest to be harvested has a surface area equal to or exceeding half a hectare (1/2 ha), the person seeking to harvest shall inform the District Forestry Officer so that he/she advises him/her how to harvest such a forest. To improve the forest management, licenses provided for by this Law shall be issued in accordance with the provisions of this Law and its implementing rules. The license shall be used only for the purposes of activities for which it is issued and only by the license.

4.4.The land tenure regularization program in Rwanda

Implemented nationwide, the land tenure regularization program (LTRP) began with a pilot phase in 2007 and demarcation was completed in 2013. The LTRP is a set of procedures that systematically brings landowners to the first regularization of their land.

Ø  It requires all landowners in a designated LTR area to participate

Ø  First demarcation and registration are free of charge.

4.5.The achievements and challenges of land tenure regularization program (LTRP)

The satisfactory achievements and benefits of the land tenure regularization program in Rwanda should be summarized as follow:

Ø  This program created more than 100,000 jobs, through demarcation that was carried out by local people, known as para-surveyors, with the chief of villages under the supervisor of technicians to ensure all parties agreed upon the parcel’s parameters. 

Ø  Land committees and tribunals at the local level used to resolve any arising conflicts during demarcation.

Ø  In 2013, over 10.3 million parcels were successfully registered and 8.4 million certificates of emphyteutic leaseholds were issued.

Ø  Systematic land registration has allowed securing the delivery of land titles and land transactions to all landowners and helped in land-related disputes resolution.

Ø  Land registration has provided some gender equality best practices, including the increased awareness of women of their land ownership rights.

The expected benefits of this program from the land-owners is to adopt soil conservation measures, to establish a land market, and enabling the possibility of consolidating land parcels and promoting intensive agriculture.

The LTRP challenge was the initial data collection processes, known as demarcation and adjudication between marshlands and uplands. Despite the achievements, only 85% land titles have been collected in 2015. While others are in disputes from inheritance conflicts, lies to asset identity; high transfer and transport fees to rural population; and unclaimed lands still challenge due to people who still outside the country (meanly refugees).



It is known worldwide that land is a precious asset; socially, economically and environmentally. Improving overall land use rights should be a key priority for land insecurity and conflicts management. Rwanda has taken this option of securing land rights through land tenure regularization program to improve land use, ensure economic growth, and environmental sustainability for the benefits of its citizen. The current land reform (LTRP) increased land tenure security but there is a need to improve the efficiency of land administration systems, specifically: formalizing and securing land transactions, and regulation of land markets.

We recommend the government of Rwanda consider enabling rural landowners to progressively formalise their land. While allowing for the continuation of customary practices that represent cultural values and respond to livelihood social and economic needs; lead deep study research to better understand the mean land-size and its use. Results from this research could inform policy -makers to recognise the decisions to take currently or the provision adapt to economic, social, and environmental changes. 






















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