3.1. Insecure Access to Land
Urban farmers gain access to land in a variety of ways. Some farmers cultivate on government lands, communal lands (by accessing plots of land through chiefs, family heads or clans) and individual landowners’ parcels. These farmers may be squatting, or using these site with the owners’ knowledge to prevent encroachers from building on it [50
]. There are sometimes overlaps between these categories of land access. As an increasingly scarce commodity in the urban zone, land is often an issue of conflict. Communal lands are entrusted on chiefs for the people and meant to be used for the benefit of the populace [51
]. However, many chiefs in Tamale are taking advantage of the lucrative land markets to sell lands, including those under cultivation [52
] for commercial and housing purposes. This situation in Tamale, caused a staff member from the regional Ministry of Agriculture to say to me that a Dagmba man has now “become a landless man”.
It is worth explaining the standard route to gaining access to land for farming with intention to later get a title. (Figure 3
Land developers can obtain leasehold rights to land, even though this process is lengthy, complicated, risky and expensive. Acquiring land for residential or commercial farming purpose starts with identifying the land one is interested in owning. When a plot of land is identified by anyone interested in it, one can contact the Lands Commission to check if the chief in question has the credibility to allocate that land and whether the land has been zoned for the purposes aligned to that of the developer. This information can also be obtained from the Survey and Mapping Division of the Lands Commission, the Town and Country Planning Department and the Customary Land Secretariat. If these criteria are met, then one can approach the chief in charge of the said land for an allocation note which later needs to be confirmed by the divisional chief if one is dealing with a junior chief.
A traditional token consisting of kola nuts and a cash price which is decided based on the land area is presented to the chief, who issues the allocation note. The kola nut and cash are considered a token collected for sacrifices to be carried out on the land before it is allocated. During fieldwork, the transactions between a land buyer and chiefs were often referred to as “land sales” by land “buyers”, although traditionally land is leased and not sold. When the chief gives an allocation letter to the new landowner, he then takes this allocation note to the Survey and Mapping Division at the Lands Commission. The Survey and Mapping Division goes back to the site to check if the site plan reflects the reality on the ground, as private surveyors used by chiefs are not always competent and may place boundary markers at the wrong locations. The team from the Survey and Mapping Division, if satisfied with the site plan, prepares a cadastral plan from the layout.
According to law LI144, any piece of land to be leased out has to be approved by the regional surveyor for registration purposes. The regional surveyor, who is the head of the Survey and Mapping Division, would then approve the site plan. The new landowner is expected to attach the site plan to the allocation letter and table it to the Lands Commission for a lease. If land requested is for a residential purpose a 99-year lease is given, and if it is commercial or industrial a minimum of a 50-year lease is given. If the land is for farming of permanent crops like cocoa and shea nuts, a 50-year lease is given. However, if the land is for farming of seasonal crop like maize or rice, a 25-year lease is granted. Foreigners are given not more than a 50-year lease for residential or commercial agricultural activities. When the site plan, allocation note and cadastral plan are presented at the Lands Commission, a lease form is produced. This lease form gives columns for the signatures of the divisional chief, the paramount chief, the new landowner, and two witnesses. The document is then submitted back to the regional chairman of the Lands Commission after all signatures have been appended, and he then gives his approval of these documents.
Before the lease is finalised, records are checked to make sure that the allocation is not in conflict with earlier allocation notes by the chief or another chief. If it is encumbered, the lease is sent back to the chief who issued the allocation note. If there is no conflict, then a last trip to the site is conducted to make sure no conflict cropped up on the ground during the processing period. If all is in order, a processing fee is demanded, before this lease is registered, showing that the process for a lease is completed.
It should be noted that whereas land purchasers from outside the community often undergo this procedure, indigenes rarely do; this is partly due to the complicated administrative procedures and high fees, but also because of their perception of the hereditary right to land, which is that all they have use rights to all customary lands [53
]. A staff member from the Regional Ministry of Agriculture said “chiefs don’t want to sell lands to the indigenes. The indigenes will never allow it because it is their ancestors who owned the land. It is their inheritance; how can you buy your inheritance”.
Buipela farmers in Southern Tamale, for example, had usufructs rights to their farmlands allocated to them by the chief. In 2012, much of these lands were sold to commercial and residential developers by the same chief, obliging farmers to leave in search of lands at irrigation sites and peri-urban areas. I interviwed a female farmer in Buipela who also lost her land to chief’s sales. I asked her why she did not buy her plot of land from the chief to continue farming and she said:
“If chiefs inform the farmers that they want to sell the land, they will buy the land. What chiefs do is that they will just sell the plot of land out to another person and you will only know this when the person is ready to build. In Buipela they don’t sell lands to farmers.”
In Tamale, a chief has a legal right to lease land under his control, even if such leases displaces farmers. A relevant question, posed by Ubink [53
] relevant to this study is: does the state declare chiefs as fulfilling their traditional duty to their people? A question which has multifaceted answers depending on the interest of the government institution or focal person answering the question. In Buipela, the chief has allodial rights over land and, according to traditional norms, is meant to use it for the good of the community. However, traditional authorities currently are jeopardising their communities’ livelihoods by the allocation of agricultural land for other purposes, as a result of the interaction between traditional and market forms of governance. Due to the lack of accountability, chiefs do not carry out any developments in the community but use the money for their benefit [53
]. A staff member at the land’s commission paints a vivid picture of chief’s lack of accountability to their community. He stated:
“I have always been saying that, hmmm in Ghana we are underdeveloped because of our land tenure system. It is part of the problem. Here is the case where there is a sitting chief. Land is money and government can task land and raise a lot of money for development. An area becomes ripe for development then a chief goes in and zones the place. If we have about fifty plots and you are selling each plot ten thousand Ghana Cedi, multiple it and see how much money the chief can raise from these sales. You see, but he sells the land and then spends the money on himself and the immediate people around him, without being held accountable for how he spends the money. There is no law compelling him to account, except that, one enlightened person in the family or in the palace may ask; where is the money? If you go to the palace, you may find a child who is unable to pay his school fees. I hope you understand. If you go to Accra, it is worse what they do. He sells the land; the next thing to do is to marry another wife. I am not saying all the chiefs are bad, some of them are good. The sad thing is that you know the money that is accrued from the sales; he does not use it for the development of the area. He would sell the land without any development and then expect the government to come in to provide the infrastructure services; road, water, electricity. Do you think this is fair? Is not fair I can tell you that when you go to Accra, chiefs are getting a lot of money they are selling lands, for millions of dollars but where do these monies go…, they are not being held accountable.”
] also characterises the situation in Tamale as resulting from chiefs’ appropriation of a status resembling freehold right, rather than trusteeship, as explained above.
The Gumbihini neighbourhood contains two large farming sites, both positioned on state land. In 1989, a nearby dam burst, destroying houses and offices in these locations. Subsequently, the government declared these sites as disaster zones and a green belt prohibiting any constructions of houses. Farmers have intensified farming on these sites, but chiefs still had interest in leasing out these lands even though the state had prohibited it. The first sign of a lease is the placement of a pillar in the plot, which serves as a notification of intention to build and thus a physical symbol of power. It is a form of claiming land through an inscription on the landscape. Farmers uprooted such pillars as warnings to the land purchaser not to build by taking away the symbol of power by the chiefs. Farmers went further to destroy some of the foundations of houses when buyers do not heed to their advice not to build on these sites. The above incident is one of the reasons why Urbanet facilitated an advocacy training for farmers to handle such issues more diplomatically in future, and in a way that will be sustainable.
Intermediaries such as letters, site plans, and notice boards are used by different institutions to lay claim directly or indirectly to land in a variety of ways. One example is the case of the Gumbihini old dam. This case involves a dispute over a letter, alleged to be from the Regent of Dagbon authorising the Gumbihini chief to sell land in the green zone area. This letter was presented to farmers as an authentic letter from the Dagbon Regent. However, when the farmers met the Regent, he denied any knowledge of such a letter. The Gumbihini chief’s explanation later was that his officials had delivered this forged letter to him and that he was unaware that it was not genuine [55
]. This example illustrates that the struggle for power over land is not just between chiefs and farmers, but also at different levels of the traditional hierarchy—local chiefs and paramount chiefs. Indeed, some farmers suggested that certain sales are transacted by the chiefs’ sons and secretaries without the chiefs’ knowledge.
Another route to land acquisition implicates workers from the Town and Country Planning Department (TCPD). Representatives of the TCPD admitted that there were fraudulent staff members in their department. These staff had accepted bribes from chiefs in return for rezoning land as residential areas. The issue above was evidenced by the altering of the Gumbihini Planning Scheme (where lines drawn in pen were found on the plan). Government officials, therefore, assist in accrediting more power over land resources to chiefs.
Farmers claimed that many parcels of land have been sold to multiple developers, with the chiefs’ associates collecting a fee from each. An example is the parcel of land on the Gumbihini Waterworks site purchased by lawyer Albert Luguterah. Luguterah bought land on the Waterworks site and discovered that the land had been sold to other developers, and so he opened a case against chief Naa Fuseini Nabila (the late chief of Gumbihini) in court. He put a signpost in the farming site to announce this fact. The signpost had on it a court induction letter from the courts to any one concerned. This signpost represents his attempt to use the formal judicial system to assert his power over this land. Unfortunately, traditional institutions are accountable to themselves and not government institutions, reasons why the chief refused to go to court. This issue was later resolved out of court by a new Gumbihini chief.
Each of these examples from the Gumbihini sites shows how actors have used symbols and documents as tools to assert their power over land resource and other stakeholders. These symbols and documents have rearranged power between governance systems, whether they are traditional, communal or bureaucratic. The resulting practices and the different processes these governance systems undergo shows that everyday land politics present in Ghana to a greater extent is continually reshaped by interactions and agendas of government institutions, traditional leaders and other stakeholders with interest like NGOs and farmers.
In Gumbihini, however, chiefs’ sale of land is illegal, as it is a government-owned green belt. Chiefs are therefore circumventing the formal governance system, with the complicity of some government employees. From the farmers’ perspective, the outcome is the same: restricted access to the resources they use to support their livelihoods. The points mentioned above relate to the Centre for the Future State (CFS)’s [11
] characterisation of monopolistic, dictatorial traditional authorities. CFS characterises such institutions as more likely to be democratic after interaction with “external influences”. In this data set, however, the opposite occurs. State and traditional authorities collude within a market system to appropriate resources from individual and public actors. As farmers uproot pillars, a physical symbol of power, and push down buildings, they challenge this traditional governance and governmental systems to begin functioning as they are supposed to.
In 2007, after a house was destroyed by farmers, a participatory meeting was held, involving the MoFA and Urbanet, the regional security force, some chiefs, the TCPD, the mayor among other actors, to solve the problem of access to public land for farming. After the 2007 incident, the farmers’ union was formed, and Urbanet helped them solicit funds for advocacy training, an example of what Gödsater and Söderbaum [37
] describe as civil society resisting regional governance. Gödsater and Söderbaum [37
] describe a situation where a non-governmental civil society organisation has disingenuous intentions. The picture in Tamale is much more complicated: state and traditional authorities act somewhat in concert, with civil society attempting to resist their power, more akin to [15
] the idea of a multiplicity of actors who provide collective service alongside the state, or sometimes without the state.
3.2. Conflict between Crop Farmers and Livestock Owners
Competition for land has exacerbated the urgency of other issues, notably that of conflict between crops and livestock farmers. This section details two of such instances.
The crop-livestock conflict has been ongoing amongst the community of Zagyuri in North Tamale and its adjacent communities for several years. Cattle from nearby villages stray onto the state land upon which the Zagyuri farmers crop ayoyo (Hibiscus sabdariffa). This cattle invasion of vegetable sites is problematic especially in the dry season when pasture is hard to find elsewhere. The situation has spilt over into violent conflict. In 2005, the cattle of the chief of Sugashee strayed onto the Zagyuri site. Zagyuri residents went to that chief and entreated him to confine his animals. The chief stated that dry vegetable farming is not prestigious; he described vegetable farming as useless and stated that they are low in nutrition compared to maize and rice grown in the wet season. His opinion was that in the dry season the correct use of the land was for grazing, not crop farming. This statement by the chief angered the farmers, and they vowed to kill any livestock that strayed onto their farms. Indeed, farmers from Zagyuri, Sugashee and the neighbouring Katariga all agreed that several animals are killed annually for such a perceived misdemeanour.
Katariga poses a particularly complicated case for Zagyuri farmers. These two villages (Katariga and Zagyuri) share common ancestors. Therefore, it is less acceptable for Katariga’s cattle owners to attack Zagyuri residents for the killing of their animals. The indigenes of Katariga and Zagyuri are aware that they are not entirely blameless when such incidents occur. Their children may not guard the cattle well in the dry season, and the animals do escape from their tethers at night. Often, the owner of a butchered animal simply accepts the blame and takes the butchered animal to a meat trader if the animal is not yet dead. However, if the animal is dead, the meat is disposed of as it cannot be consumed according to Islamic law. The chiefs of Zagyuri and Katariga have both advised cattle owners to guard their herds better. In 2014, the situation boiled over again in an incident where two cows strayed onto the farm of a youth, and he killed one of them. The cattle owner in return came to the Zagyuri site and attacked the boy, who was later sent to the hospital. The parents of the boy took care of his bills and did not involve the authorities. When the youth recovered, he later fenced his ayoyo plot.
The state has in fact put in place a mechanism for resolving such farmer-grazer conflict in Tamale. Paragraph 2 and 3 of the local government bylaw of 2 March 2007 dictates that animals should not loiter in town. Animals that stray into farms in the urban or peri-urban areas close to a business centre, school, hospital or other public areasshould be brought to the environmental health officer at the Metropolitan Assembly. There, the animal owner will pay a fee to the owner of any destroyed property. Also, the assembly can retent the animals if the owner refuses to pay. At Zagyuri, however, this law has never been enforced. When I interviwed the chief on how he resolves the crop-livestock conflict he said, “I am not aware animals are destroying their crops or that they are having problem, nobody ever come to tell me that he is doing a vegetable farm. So I am not aware that anything is going wrong there”. It was clear from the interview that the chief knew the problems vegetabe farmers were facing but did not want to interven directly. This might be explained from what the Queen mother of Katariga said,
“The problem is that even the farmers over there when the Zagyuri chief them to fence their fields, they would not listen to him. if they do not listen to him what of somebody from here. The people farming there do not listen to anybody's advice or anybody’s suggestions on how to keep their fields. When the chief sometimes call on them to advise them, they talk to him as if he is not a chief. Sometimes, nobody would answer the palace call, so the chief just leaves alone.”
In this example, no system of governance can successfully mediate a compromise between livestock and crop farmers’ interests by enforcing the law. Traditional and informal land usufruct arrangements do not prevent such disputes. Through their attempts to use such arrangements, farmers are directly undermining the mechanism the state has put in place to mediate such conflicts. Private enclosure by individual farmers is a possibility, but one that may attract reprisals if they appropriate the resources of other actors to do this.
3.4. Imperfect Marketing Opportunities
Some farmers I interviewed felt that they had successfully negotiated with market traders to reach an understanding about prices. Others gained information from peers to bargain with traders. A small minority of farmers complained that they did not know market prices which gives market traders an advantage over them, resulting in farmers being cheated. Farmers’ union representatives noted that they had attempted to tackle the latter issue by starting a marketing cooperative. This would have been an effort to impose a formal market system, mediated through a civil society organisation. However, the plan never materialised. The reasons given for this included lack of funds for storage facilities and lack of interest in a cooperative marketing strategy. The existence of familial ties between marketers and farmers guarantees trade for both farmers and marketers when the market is slack, and act to cement other bonds within the household. Indeed, marketing by kin is relatively commonplace in the sites I have visited. A farmer in Zagyuri said, “that is the business of my mother. My mother sells ‘ayoyo’ , tomatoes, okro, pepper and other things which she buys from me and others”.
An informal system of governance, partly fuelled by market relations amongst kin, therefore currently operates, and civil society has as of yet had much less of a role to play. Nevertheless, conflict persists. The informal system favours those traders and farmers who have the power to control market transactions. Although a formal mechanism would advantage farmers in an economic sense, there are social benefits of the current marketing system that mean some favour it instead.
The idea of a marketing board is in some ways reminiscent of the days of parastatal organisations. Neoliberal discourse traditionally reacted strongly against such government intervention in market mechanisms. However, current value chain approaches to agricultural commercialisation encourage private and cooperative attempts to organise into market-oriented groups (see, for example, Yuksel [57
] and Dempsey and Campbell [58
]). Such group organisation resembles the shape of civil society, yet differ in its market-facing function. Markets are firmly embedded in social relations, whether in a system involving cooperatives or one where familial and informal social ties dominate. Therefore, although the market system of governance has rules, people alter them according to those superimposed by other interacting and contemporaneous governance systems.
The four situations explained above have shown that the different groups involved in the urban farming system have various, often conflicting, ideas about how affairs should be run and who should run them. Where there is no formally established governance system, an informal one can develop. If it is unsatisfactory, or if existing formal governance systems are not functioning smoothly, power clashes occur. Each group has an agenda they wish to promote. Each body therefore also has the governance system it may wish to promote, one that they believe would favour their interests in providing public goods and services. These issues raised have a long-term effect on the socioeconomic activities of the people. As the population continues to grow and the climate changes, there is a need to not only focus on the effect on urban agricultural activities and health-related risks but a new planning scheme which looks at all these complex issues at different levels and scales.