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close this bookAgricultural Expansion and Pioneer Settlements in the Humid Tropics (UNU, 1988, 305 pages)
close this folder14. The land Tenure and agrarian system in the new cocoa frontier of Ghana: Wassa Akropong case study
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentEvolution of the customary tenure system
View the documentThe migrant farmer and land access
View the documentSize of holdings
View the documentResources
View the documentLand use
View the documentFarmers perception of tenure problems
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences

The migrant farmer and land access

Migrant cocoa farmers can gain access to land under four main tenurial arrangements. These are

(i) share cropping (consisting of two systems);
(ii) outright purchase, and
(iii) through gifts.

Share Cropping Systems

The two share cropping systems are known locally as abunu and abusa. Under the abunu tenancy, the proceeds from the harvest or the farm may be divided equally between the tenant and the landowner. Before this division, the harvest from cover crops such as plantain and cocoyam is shared equally, usually after sales, between the landowner and the farmer. During the division of the proceeds, the landowner has the first choice of the products as divided.

In the case of the abusa, the ratio of the tenant farmer's acreage to that of the landowner is two to one. Again it is the landowner who has first choice, and in a large number of cases he takes care of the farm and harvests the crops himself. In some cases, however, the tenant farmer is employed to harvest the crop and take care of the farm for one-third of the harvest. In other cases an entirely new person may be hired to take care of the farm under similar terms.

An important feature of the share cropping agreement is the relative contributions of labour and capital by the tenant farmer and the landowner. In the case of abunu, the landowner is expected to contribute labour, capital, and seedlings. This varies, however, with the individual agreements. In the case of abuse, however, the landowner contributes nothing apart from the tract of land; the share cropper is expected to use onethird of the harvested crop to finance the cost of operations on the farm and the other one-third as his personal remuneration, while the landowner receives one-third as his rent for the land.

Under the share cropping tenancy, the tenant farmer is not free to cultivate any crop he likes without the consent of the landowner. From a sample of 97 share croppers, 34 respondents (35.1%) claimed they had to obtain permission from their landowners before cultivating any crop not specified in the terms of the tenancy agreement. There had been instances where defaulting tenant farmers had been ejected by aggrieved landowners. Thus, in one of the villages studied, Tamakloe, some Ewe farmers had been ejected from their land by the landowners because they had cultivated cassava, which they used to make gari, a popular food item, instead of cultivating cocoa and oil palm, for which they had acquired the land. The Ewe tenants were apparently making huge profits from the sale of gari.

According to farmers, the application of the two share cropping systems in the area has changed in the last twenty years. Formerly, landowners were not entitled to receive a share of food crops cultivated as cover crops on cocoa farms. However, in the last decade or so, food crops have become more profitable than cocoa as the country has faced a serious food crisis. Landowners are therefore demanding a share of the profits from the sale of food crops used as cover crops on young cocoa farms.

Landowners now prefer abunu to abusa tenancy. The reason given for this preference is whereas a landowner would lose half of his land to a migrant farmer under the abunu system, he would lose two-thirds in the case of abusa. Accumulation of land by "strangers," particularly through the abuse tenancy, is not uncommon in the area and the Wassa, especially the youth, are now becoming alarmingly aware of the rate at which they are losing control of their lands to strangers. Some of the migrant farmers have acquired disproportionately more land than the natives, land which they then sublet under share cropping to the latter!

Migrant tenant farmers are also being restricted to the tree crops for which they originally acquired the land. This has at times left them with no land for growing food crops to feed their families. Some have therefore been forced to enter into new tenurial arrangements with landowners to acquire land solely for cultivating subsistence food crops. Under this arrangement, in return for a free grant of land, the migrant farmer undertakes to establish a cocoa or oil palm plantation for the landowner. The farmer is responsible for maintaining the farm until the trees begin to bear fruit. He has no claim to any portion of the farm. Usually the landowner provides the seeds or seedlings for establishing the cocoa or oil palm farm, but nothing else.

Access to Land through Gifts

Access to land may also be obtained through gift grants by landowners to migrant farmers. This is done if the migrant farmer can establish that he belongs to the same clan as the landowning clan of the Wassa village where he has gone in search of land. The migrant farmer would obviously select the village carefully, after he had made preliminary enquiries. On arrival in the village, he would first introduce himself to the clan head as a member of the same clan in his home town. (There are representative segments of all the major clans throughout the Akan cultural region due to earlier population migrations.) The clan head would in turn introduce the farmer to the chief of the village. The migrant farmer would normally offer a bottle of schnapps to the chief. If his claims are accepted he is accorded full membership in the clan in the Wassa village, on the basis of which he would then have access to clan land as a member of the landowning group. He pays nothing in return; he has only to discharge his civic responsibilities as a clan member. A large number of migrant farmers from the study area took this route to gain access to land twenty or more years ago when virgin land was not in short supply.

The migrant farmer may also obtain a grant of land through marriage. No restrictions are placed on the crops which can be cultivated on the land. The Wassa wife and the children resulting from the marriage would inherit the land or farm when the migrant farmer dies. If the marriage should break down, the farm or land would either revert to the wife or be shared between the two.

Access to Land through Outright Purchase

Land may also be obtained through outright purchase, even though some of the subchiefs in the area refuse to acknowledge the transaction as a purchase. The process is a simple one: A migrant farmer requests land for farming from a chief. When his request is granted, the subchief sends "boundary cutters" to demarcate an area for him. On the return of the boundary cutters, the subchief, in acknowledgment of the transaction and on the advice of the boundary cutters, would charge the migrant farmer some amount of money, referred to as "drink" money, the payment of which grants the prospective farmer access to the land. The amounts charged in the 1950s were not high; for a square mile of virgin forest a migrant farmer would pay about £30.00. Usually a document is prepared to cover the transaction, and the farmers pay surveyors to make plans for them. The majority of farmers interviewed (53.2%) had employed surveyors to demarcate the boundaries of their parcels of land. There is some controversy, as yet unresolved, between landowners and migrant farmers over the question of whether such a transaction gives absolute title to the land to the farmer. The paramount chief of the Wassa Akropong traditional area claims that without his signature on the document it is not valid.

As he pointed out: "These tenant farmers fail to come to me for introduction and for confirmation of the transactions entered into. Furthermore, very few if any of the tenant farmers have valid documents or titles to the lands they have acquired. Some chiefs issue temporary receipts which serve as documents on the land, while other tenant farmers make site plans which only the chiefs sign. No indentures are prepared for the signatures of the divisional chiefs and their elders as well as mine. In the absence of indentures and accompanying survey papers, disputes concerning boundaries are legion" (Bassayin 1985).

While some of the chiefs sell the same piece of land to more than one migrant farmer, some migrant farmers invite litigation in that, under the pretext of establishing large scale plantations, they acquire vast stretches of land which they later sublease to new migrant farmers whose identities they conceal from the chiefs. By this practice, the migrant farmers become landlords in their own right and charge higher rents to their fellow migrant farmers who, however, are late comers. These illegal deals come to light only when the new tenant farmers realize they are being cheated and seek redress from the chiefs.

In 1962, following a recommendation by a committee on the need to control land rents, which were identified as one of the major causes of indebtedness of farmers, the government passed the Rent Stabilization Act (109), as amended in 1963 by Act 165, which authorized the appropriate minister to fix rent on land subject to the act. It made it illegal to demand or receive higher rent than that prescribed by the minister and prohibited ejection of tenants without his approval.

The Cocoa Farm Regulation 1962 (LI.186) and 1965 (LI. 382) was the principal rentcontrolling regulation applied to cocoa land in the cocoa growing regions. It fixed rents at one shilling per acre for members of landowning groups and five shillings per acre for strangers.

These measures provoked disputes in the cocoa-growing areas, especially in the new frontier zone, where there were clashes between tenants insisting on the protection of the enactments and landowners who opposed the legislation. With a change of government in 1966, the act was repealed by NLCD 49. In consequence, the landownertenant relationship reverted to the customary arrangements in existence before the coming into force of Act 109. The Wassa Amenfi Traditional Council did not take advantage of the repeal of Act 109 to ask tenant farmers to revert to the previous tenurial arrangements, including share cropping.

Some tenant farmers have therefore continued to enjoy a cash rent tenancy, paying the uneconomic rent of C5.00 (C = cedi, equal to US$0.87 in late 1960s, 1970s) per acre per year. The rent is paid to the Lands Department under the terms specified under Act 123.

The low cash rent paid by tenants has given rise to general discontent among the chiefs and people in the area. Some of the chiefs have, therefore, resorted to other means to exact more money from migrant farmers.

One such chief, whose stool land has almost all been given out, has refused to sign the plans of the tenants, with the excuse that their plots of land were illegally acquired. Everyone who wants his plan signed, therefore, has to go and negotiate with him. Obviously, this creates problems of insecurity for the farmers. According to the subchief, some of these lands in question were acquired from the stool under abusa tenancy, but with the government's Rent Stabilization Act of 1962, the tenant, without prior consultations, reverted to paying acreage dues to the Lands Department instead of one-third of the crops to the chief as specified. For the farmers, obviously it is cheaper and far better to pay only C5.00 for every acre tilled as against paying one-third of their total earnings. And so the argument drags on, as too insecurity of tenure, arbitrary and irrational taxation, inconsistencies in charges for land acquired, litigation and dispute, and an endless tale of bitterness and confusion.

Although the majority (185, or 84%) of farmers have not been involved in land litigation, quite a number have: 49 (19.6%). Of these, only 29 have succeeded in having their cases resolved. Litigation and land dispute are more often associated with the parcels of land acquired through outright purchase than with the plots acquired under share cropping tenancy. Usually the landowners argue that whoever sold the land to the migrant had no authority to do so because the land did not belong to him or that the land sold to him was family land, and could not be sold without informing the rest of the family. There have been instances where migrant farmers have been dispossessed of their farms at the time of harvesting.

Litigation over boundaries arises mainly because of the absence of permanent boundaries or boundary pillars. The role of lawyers in fanning and sustaining litigation over disputed land needs further study; not only do some charge large sums in legal fees from the farmers but some also acquire large tracts of land as part of their consulting fees.

When there is dispute between two subchiefs in the area over land boundaries, migrant farmers are compelled to contribute towards the cost of litigation to the subchief from whom they obtained their land because, it is argued, if the chief should lose the case, they may, in turn, be expelled from their land by the new landowner. This kind of funding, no doubt, accounts for the frequency of litigation over disputed land among the subchiefs in the area. The outcome of the case may not always be to the advantage of the migrant farmers. In a recent land dispute in the area, a group of migrant farmers contributed C2,000.00 each to their subchief towards defraying the cost of litigation. After a lengthy and costly litigation, the subchief lost the case. The new landowner in turn levied C20,000.00 from each migrant farmer to defray his costs incurred in the litigation. The farmers had to pay the new levy to retain their lands. Migrant farmers are also being required to make contributions to enable the chiefs to celebrate traditional festivals. Defaulters are fined or ejected. These charges are not uniform but arbitrary, depending on how influential the subchief in question is.

A paper presented on behalf of the Association of Stranger Farmers in the Wassa Amenfi Traditional area at a seminar referred to these exorbitant demands:

A typical example was a case in which one of the local inhabitants died and during the funeral celebration, the local chief and his elders demanded that a charge of two thousand cedis (C2,000.00) be levied on the 'stranger' farmers as donation. This request was refused and was brought to our notice. Another point was a case in which a chief demand [sic] that every 'stranger' farmer should pay two hundred cedis (C200.00) plus one bottle of schnapps and a sheep every year during his annual festival. This case has still not been resolved, since the 'stranger' farmers feel that the demand is too much. Reports on similar cases which always generate troubles between some local chiefs and 'stranger' farmers keep on coming to us. For example, some local chiefs had demanded renewal of [an] old agreement which had been drawn over ten and twenty years ago because some of the chiefs now feel that monies charged at that time were not enough (FAO 1985).

In addition, migrant farmers may be expected to contribute towards various miscellaneous expenditures; for instance, toward development projects such as schools, road construction, and even for ceremonies such as the "enstoolment," or installation, of a subchief.

The types of tenure identified in the area reflect the predominance of migrant farmers in the sample population (table 1). The majority of farmers interviewed had gained access to land through share cropping systems or through direct purchase. It is mostly the native Wassa who have obtained land through the communal tenure system or through inheritance.