Legally or customarily defined, Land tenure is the relationship, among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to land. Land tenure is an institution, i.e., rules invented by societies to regulate behaviour in regards to land. Rules of tenure define how property rights to land are to be allocated within societies. They define how access is granted to rights to use, control, and transfer land, as well as associated responsibilities and restraints.
In simple terms, land tenure systems determine who can use what resources for how long, and under what conditions.
Land tenure is often categorised as:
- Private: the assignment of rights to a private party who may be an individual, a married couple, a group of people, or a corporate body such as a commercial entity or non-profit organization. For example, within a community, individual families may have exclusive rights to residential parcels, agricultural parcels and certain trees. Other members of the community can be excluded from using these resources without the consent of those who hold the rights.
- Communal: a right of commons may exist within a community where each member has a right to use independently the holdings of the community. For example, members of a community may have the right to graze cattle on a common pasture.
- Open access: specific rights are not assigned to anyone and no-one can be excluded. This typically includes marine tenure where access to the high seas is generally open to anyone; it may include rangelands, forests, etc, where there may be free access to the resources for all. (An important difference between open access and communal systems is that under a communal system, non-member of the community are excluded from using the common areas.)
- State: property rights are assigned to some authority in the public sector. For example, in Uganda, forest land falls under the mandate of the state.
In Uganda, the Land Act provides for Tenure, Ownership and Management of Land. Subject to article 237 of the Constitution, all land in Uganda shall vest in the citizens of Uganda and shall be owned in accordance with the following land tenure systems—
(a) Customary Land
(b) Freehold Land
(c) Mailo Land
(d) Leasehold Land.
Public land owned by the Government (vast chunks of Land, gazetted reserves, parks, forests, etc.) is not cited as a separate land tenure system.
Land is an important asset for people’s livelihoods and for economic development in Uganda, where the majority of people live in rural areas. Land is also, increasingly, being seen as a commodity and the demand for land is on the increase, not least because of rising food prices, the potential for production of biofuels and the recent discovery of oil in western Uganda. In its new draft national land policy, the Government of Uganda (GoU) emphasises the role of land in Uganda’s socio-economic development and the importance of efficient land use.
Recent figures about distribution of land by tenure types is hard to get. About 95% of landowners in Uganda do not have land titles and their rights remain unregistered. Customary tenure is however the predominant mode of access to land in Uganda. The 2010 Statistical Abstract from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, basing itself on the 2002 Uganda Population and Housing Census Analytical Report, claims that 68.6% of all households are on customary land, 18.6% on freehold, 9.2% on Mailo and 3.6% on leasehold. Generally, formal registration and different types of titling are more frequent in central and western Uganda, whereas customary tenure prevails in eastern and northern Uganda.