One Woman Stakes Her Claim in Tanzania’s Agricultural Heartland

March 8, 2017
Thomas Donigan/USAIDAnita Mfilinge receives a certificate documenting her land rights.

In many ways, Kinywang’anga is a typical Tanzanian village. Located in central Tanzania, it is home to quiet countryside and hospitable people, most of whom earn their living from the land. This small community, however, has big changes on the horizon. Whereas most rural Tanzanians lack documented rights to their land, residents of Kinywang’anga are, for the first time, claiming their rights—and local women like Anita Mfilinge are benefitting as a result.

In Mfilinge’s area of the country, the tradition has been for the transfer of land to occur informally. One family or individual passes a plot to another, often without documentation. The traditional method does not recognize a woman's right to receive land or to pass it on, so control of land most often goes to men by default. But the law, as opposed to tradition, grants this right to women as well as to men. Anyone who can map out a claim and get it corroborated by their neighbors is entitled to legal documentation of their right to the land and their right to transfer it.

Like most women in her village, Mfilinge was once unaware of her rights as a landholder. Her ability to hold land, she suspected, was merely a privilege. And surely, she told herself, this privilege must depend on the will of her husband and male relatives. 

Mfilinge learned the extent of her rights when a Feed the Future project visited her community. With the goal of registering claims on over 800 plots, the project got to work teaching men and women alike how to claim their land formally. Inspired, Mfilinge and her husband discussed their options, ultimately choosing joint tenancy. This gave her an equal stake in the couple’s properties. It also would secure her claim to them if her husband were to pass away.

“This opportunity is a blessing for me,” Mfilinge said. “I now understand my right to access, own, use and transfer land. This gives me a reason to focus more on agricultural activities because I am a certified owner.” 

As a certified owner, Mfilinge gets a number of benefits. Her land cannot be claimed by others. It is easier for her to sell it and is more attractive to investors, so its value may increase. People with more power cannot take the land away from her, and being a certified owner also motivates her to take better care of her land, to protect the surrounding natural resources, and to make long-term investments in it—all of which drive the agriculture sector forward.

These advances increase gender equality and economic growth alike. For women like Mfilinge, ownership means greater security and independence; for communities, reduced conflict and better use of resources; and on a national scale, greater investment and agricultural productivity.

As the first community to participate in Feed the Future’s land registration efforts in Tanzania, Kinywang’anga residents are also among the first to reap the rewards of this process. To date, over 350 villagers have registered land claims; more than half are women. What’s more, 68 percent of these women chose single occupancy, making them independent landholders. 

“I now understand women’s land rights are fundamental human rights,” said Mfilinge. “Everyone has the right to own land alone or in association with others.”

The Feed the Future Tanzania Land Tenure Assistance project featured in this story is a four-year effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that is reducing risks related to land tenure and paving the way for future agricultural investment in Tanzania’s rural heartland. Over the next three years, this work will benefit over 14,000 people in 41 villages, registering an estimated 50,000 plots by the end of 2019.