Mizan Law Review

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Res Nullius vs. Res Communis in Matters of Communal Lands of Smallholder Farmers in Ethiopia

Daniel Behailu Gebreamanuel, Getiso Detamo Mekebo


Communal land is among the key factors in the enhancement of rural livelihood because it enables mixed farming practices. Although communal lands are prime sources of livelihood in rural farming communities, empirical evidence shows gaps in their legal recognition and protection in Ethiopia. There are encroachments which include government intrusion, informal land sale, distribution, and handing out land (selling communal land in informal markets) as Kebele’s contribution for development projects. These factors entrench poverty by sidelining the rural poor at the grassroots whose life is anchored on these lands. These problems also entail violation of human rights of the rural population. This article interrogates the misconception which tends to consider communal lands (customary land tenure) as res nullius (ownerless property) while such lands are in fact res communis (community property). The article uses the Hadiya Zone as a case study. It is argued that there is the need for the effective implementation and amendment of land laws which require political will to ensure tenure security of communal lands thereby securing and diversifying the livelihoods of poor smallholder rural farmers and ensuring human rights.

Key terms

Communal lands · Livestock · Poverty · Livelihoods · Rural Poor · Tenure security
AJOL African Journals Online