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Access to land in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, the legal frameworks vest land ownership in the state and the public. In general, land is owned by the state and cannot be owned by private individuals. Smallholder farmers have the right to cultivate land, but they cannot sell, exchange, or mortgage it. Investors can lease land from smallholders and regional states and large-scale investors can lease but not purchase land from the government. The transfer of land is both contractual (leasing, renting or share-cropping) and time-bound.

Ethiopian Proclamation No. 456/2005 defines three tenure types. In article 2 sub article 11, it defines private holding as rural land in the holding of peasants, semi-pastoralists and pastoralists and other bodies entitled by law to use rural land. Article 2 sub article 12 gives a definition of communal holding as rural land which is given by the government to local residents for common grazing, forestry and other social services. Furthermore, private investors that engage in agricultural development activities have the right to use rural land in accordance with the investment policies and laws at federal and regional levels.

The registration of farmland is systematic and takes place at the lowest levels of local government (woreda and kebele). The registration of user rights and confirmation of the field boundaries is done in public and neighbors are to be present. The work is done by the Land Administration Committee. Its members are from the community and work as volunteers. They are selected in consultation with the community and women are to be included, according to the instructions.

Tenure types in urban areas

In urban land administration, the tenure types include leasehold, old possession, state holding, condominium and informal settlement. In addition to these, the Urban Land Lease Holding Proclamation No. 721/2011 defines two tenure types. In article 2 sub article 1 a Lease is defined as a system of land tenure by which the right of use of urban land is acquired under a contract of a defined period. Article 2 sub article 18 defines old possession as a plot of land legally acquired before the urban centres entered into the leasehold system or a land provided as compensation in kind to persons evicted from old possession.

The right of women’s access to land is affirmed in the Constitution. Thus, regional states provide holding certificates to farm households as a means of ensuring tenure security. In this regard, the day to day responsibility of overseeing rural land administration lies under the Ministry of Agriculture. The ministry is responsible for overseeing land use and land tenure of rural lands outside large scale agricultural investment lands. In rural areas, land administration and the daily management of land issues are delegated to local governments (‘woreda’ and ‘kebele’ level).

Acquisition of rural land

  1. Rural land will be given free of charge and for an indefinite period to peasants, pastoralists and semi-pastoralists who are or wish to be engaged in agriculture (FDRE, Proc. No. 456/2005, Art.5 sub Art. 1.a).
  2. To investors through lease/rent for a specified period of time.
  3. According to the proclamation, rural land can be acquired either by distribution (distribution of government land, communal land, other unoccupied land and land with no inheritor), redistribution, settlement programs, donation or inheritance.
  4. Farming households can also rent land either in the form of fixed rent or sharecropping and acquire land as a gift or inheritance.

Transfer of rural land-use rights

  1. Peasant farmers, pastoralists and semi-pastoralists can transfer their rural land-use rights through a donation to members of their family (FDRE, Proc. No. 456/2005, Art.5.2)
  2. Peasant farmers, pastoralists and semi-pastoralists can transfer their rural land-use rights through inheritance to members of their family (FDRE, Proc. No. 456/2005, Art. 8.5)
  3.  Peasant farmers, pastoralists and semi-pastoralists can also rent/lease part of their holdings to other farmers or investors for a specified period (FDRE, Proc. No. 456/2005, Art.8.1).


For further information on access to land contact:

Ministry of Urban Development and Construction

Addis Ababa

Tel: +251 11 554 1282

Website:  https://www.mudc.gov.et/

Official Facebook page

Ministry of Agriculture

Addis Ababa

Tel: +251 116460746

Website: http://www.moa.gov.et

Official Facebook page