Ivory Coast’s Guiglo department in the country’s western cocoa belt has for years been hosting farmers from neighbouring Burkina Faso and other parts of the country itself. The farmers have been working on purchased or rented plots, but scarcity of land is now degenerating into conflicts pitting indigenous groups against the migrant farmers.
Benjamin Kouakou N’Guessan, a migrant farmer in the region says: “I had paid for this land together with my friend Timothy. We then worked on the fileds and got it back in production, only for someone to later come and claim that the land is his. He reaped our harvests and fled. He reaped two hectares.”
Social and welfare groups are calling on the Ivorian authorities to register lands and regulate land ownership to contain the conflicts which have at times been fatal. Only 4% of land in the country is officially registered by the state with title deeds.
It is important to know who owns the land because land in Ivory Coast has become a topic of conflict especially in the western forest areas.
“It is important to know who owns the land because land in Ivory Coast has become a topic of conflict especially in the western forest areas because of the pressure on resources so it takes clarifications to avoid conflict,” says Sosthenes Koffi, a sociologist and a member of Audacity Africa Institute, an NGO working in the region.
The new Ivorian Constitution recently adopted through a referendum favours local farmers only, providing that “only the State, public authorities and individuals can access Ivorian rural property.” It therefore excludes millions of Burkinabe farmers in the country.
Agriculture represents 24% of the country’s gross domestic product, with two thirds of the working population depending on it directly or indirectly.
In 2013, the Ivorian government had announced the registration of 23 million hectares for ten years to settle the land question. But the project remains unfulfilled.
It provides 70% of Ivory Coast’s export earnings, with the country being the world’s largest cocoa, cashew and cola producer. It is also Africa’s top banana producer, second for oil palm and third for cotton and coffee. Much of this production especially cocoa is based on small scale production.
Land sales have also generated greater conflicts, even with papers signed. It is said that some people sell land they don’t own, or which other heirs can claim. In other cases, buyers may take advantage of the ignorance and poverty of the villagers to acquire land cheaply.