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Changing customary land tenure regimes in Zambia, implications for women’s land rights

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Zamchiya Phillan , Musa Chilombo

01 March 2023

University of Western Cape


uKESA Librarian 2

Working paper


This paper argues that the formalisation of customary land through a rural certification programme in Nyimba District, Zambia, has triggered the establishment of a new tenure regime that transcends the dualism between Western legal forms of private property and idealised customary systems. Within this agrarian transition, the number of social conflicts over land boundaries has fallen, at least in the short term; women’s perceptions of tenure security have improved; and women’s participation in land administration at the local level has increased. In addition, a significant number of married women have registered residential land and farmland in their own names. However, the transition has also produced a number of negative impacts. Multiple land claims by women have been dismissed.


Men have continued to dominate power relations in the district. Certification has not necessarily led to greater access to credit, improved agricultural productivity, or a rise in investment. Informal land markets have become more expensive with certification producing a veneer of legitimacy for buying and selling customary land, even though such transactions remain, strictly speaking, illegal. On the other hand, agrarian support has been skewed to the benefit of wealthier, better-connected, and dominant women with land-holding certificates and to the detriment of less-powerful women. Accordingly, many of the envisaged benefits of formalisation through an evolutionary approach to land tenure rights have not been realised. The argument developed by this paper is based on original field data obtained through quantitative household surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions.


Abstract based on original source.


Website References


Agricultural and rural legislation

Built environment


Environmental management



Human settlements


Land access




Local government


Poverty & inequality




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