Nelly Bassily | May 24, 2010
“I want my children to study,” explains Muzirigerha Deo. Mr. Deo is no longer a farmer. He sold parcels of his farm land in Cirunga, in the mountains of South Kivu. He now lives in the nearby town of Bukavu.
A different kind of land grabbing has been happening in this part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2006, Chinese investors built roads to connect Bukavu to the villages. Since then, more and more urban dwellers have been buying land from farmers. And they don’t always use it for farming.
Farmers have many good reasons to sell. Some are tired of their difficult living conditions. Others are trying to escape local conflicts. Either way, many are prepared to sell their land. Land inherited from parents is also sold. This often divides families.
Farmers now swell the shantytowns of Bukavu. They have built small houses. Some invest in small businesses. Others become employees on their former plots.
In the Ruzizi plain and the hills of South Kivu, large companies own a lot of the land. The number of landless farmers here has increased. This has been caused by rapid population growth and more land being owned by urban dwellers.
Foreign ownership or long-term leases are also increasing in the DRC. China has already secured 2.8 million hectares, where it intends to establish the largest palm oil plantation in the world.
Since 1980, DRC law has stated that: “The land is the exclusive, inalienable property of the State.” Details on exactly how land can be used by farmers are unclear. With a maze of red tape and different types of land tenure arrangements, farmers are in a difficult and confusing legal position. The result is that land has become a source of conflict. It is now seen as a commodity, and customary practices and land rights are no longer upheld.
A local social advocacy organization, Action Sociale et d’Organisation Paysanne (ASOP), has been working to safeguard farmers’ rights. It has proposed amendments to the land law, regarding fair distribution of land. It proposes a reallocation of land, taking into account the need for agricultural and food crops. ASOP also insists that the next land law must listen to the opinions of traditional leaders and recognize customary practices.