Ten million farmers will receive certificates guaranteeing land rights, deflecting criticism over Ethiopia's controversial tenure system, officials said on Tuesday.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has pledged that all the farmers would receive the certificates over the next three years.
Critics of the government's land policy argue that state ownership in a rural-based economy prevents farmers from investing more heavily in their land to boost harvests. However, Mulugeta Debalkew, spokesman for the ministry, told IRIN that the new strategy would boost agricultural productivity by creating greater security for farmers.
Raising agricultural productivity in Ethiopia is crucial to the government's poverty alleviation strategy as part of their agricultural development led industrialisation. Currently, 85 percent of the population are subsistence farmers.
"Certification is in favour of the poor and it empowers women by legally guaranteeing their right to use land," Mulugeta said.
Although a pilot land certification scheme had been underway since 2003, the programme is now being expanded across the country. Mulugeta said Ethiopia's largest region - Oromiya, which has a population of 30 million people - was expected to begin issuing certificates this week.
He added that new legal frameworks, mapping and delineation of the land have been underway in the country in preparation for the certification scheme. The ministry was also looking at issuing land-use rights to the country's seven million pastoralists.
The certificates also allow farmers to sell the use right of the land to banks to raise collateral, although they cannot sell the land itself as it still remains under state ownership. Farmers can also transfer use rights to their children although the minimum plot size when divided up among families is half a hectare.
However, analysts expressed caution over the three-year timeframe and argued that by falling short of ownership, farmers will still be reluctant to invest in their land.
Dessalegn Rahmato, who heads the Ethiopian-based Forum for Social Studies, a social policy think tank, cast doubt on the projects' aims of boosting productivity.
"The farmers will not get a title deed to the land because they are not the owner," he told IRIN. "The government still has the option of getting rid of the use rights, depending on circumstances."
Mulugeta said the certificates meant farmers would be paid compensation if their land was taken by the state, saying that any dispute between state and farmer would be resolved through the courts.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions