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close this bookResettlement of Displaced Population - 1st Edition (DHA/UNDRO - DMTP - UNDP, 1995, 60 p.)
close this folderPart 4: Options of place
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentReturn to residence or area from which displacement occurred
View the documentSpontaneous repatriation
View the documentOrganized repatriation
View the documentIntegration into the host community
View the documentRelocation
View the documentCASE STUDY: Planned Secondary Resettlement (PSR)
View the documentCASE STUDY: Land tenure issues in resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray region of Ethiopia

CASE STUDY: Land tenure issues in resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray region of Ethiopia

Case Study Land Tenure Issues in Resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray Region of Ethiopia

Source: Hammond, Laura, "Returnees in Humera, Situation Report", United Nations Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, May 1994


Of Ethiopia's population of 50 million, more than 80% survive by subsistence farming. Today, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia suffers from shortages of tenable land. Many people left the country during the civil war which besieged Tigray for 18 years, ending in May of 1991. Despite this outmigration, the population continued to expand and abandoned land was reallocated by the communities. Further, due to extensive deforestation and erosion, traditionally farmed land has become less productive. Pressure on land has now increased as those who left during the war are returning to their homeland and wish to become self-sufficient.

In June of 1993,12,000 refugees returned from the Sudan and were resettled in three settlement areas near the border town of Humera in Tigray. Most of the returnees who had left Ethiopia 8-12 years before were originally from the mountainous "highlands" in Tigray region, however, land shortages in those areas precluded settlement there. The Humera area is a lowland fertile farming center which has produced sesame, sorghum and cotton for export. In April of 1994,2,200 additional returnees came to live near Humera.

In the absence of a formal land tenure policy, informal unwritten policies now direct the allocation of land. Sources of land include large tracts of idle land from state farms left over from the former regime and large tracts of uncleared but arable land. The former refugees, however, were not the only people demanding land. Some investors who had a stake in the land near Humera but left during the war, had returned to lease land from the government. Small farmers could borrow land from the investors and pay back their loans with cash or harvest. The allocation system initially worked in favor of the investors who, with their funds and mechanized systems, could profit from the large plots of cleared land.

Many of the returnee farmers had learned how to farm lowland crops in the Sudan. However, the land initially given to a large proportion of the returnees was located 50 kilometers from their village. Although it was already cleared, the great distance made it excessively time consuming for the farmers to attend their fields. They were not able to adequately guard or work the fields and many had to pay rent to store crops that could not be carried home. Other plots of allocated land were closer to the villages but uncleared, and then later claimed by the men who had worked to clear it, a labor intensive process requiring up to three months.

Women heads of households who had never owned land were given land, but most were unable to benefit as the system favored able bodied men who were able to leave their households for a week at a time to tend the fields and to clear the uncleared land. Women had never traditionally worked land but only helped in the harvesting. The elderly and other vulnerable groups were also at a disadvantage and many people remained dependent on relief assistance throughout 1994.

The local and regional governments faced difficult problems in dealing with the inequities. They took positive steps toward a solution but there was a risk that policies would be overridden by future national land legislation. Efforts were directed at providing returnees with land closer to their villages and allocating cleared land to women and vulnerable groups. The tenure situation for the area's original residents was also in question and the host community felt the pressure of the returnees on the natural resource base. Nearly a half million building poles had been harvested from the local natural forests. Due to a scarcity of land use information, the Tigray Development Association conducted a comprehensive land use study which should provide recommendations for improving land allocation and agricultural practices.