While having a central role in the Ivorian economy – accounting for 25% of the country’s GDP and 60% of its exports – agricultural expansion over the medium term remains limited by the ineffectual allocation of agriculture land plots. Disagreements between growers and herders regularly leads to violent localised conflicts. Furthermore, the availability of adequate farming land in some areas of the country has become further strained by the impacts of climate change. According to government estimates, only 2-4% of rural land in the country had legal ownership titles in 2016. This lack of credible and verifiable land ownership, combined with the practical difficulties the state faces in enforcing titles, has long hindered both small- and large-scale agriculture development.
Besides its impact on overall sector expansion and the livelihoods of rural populations, implementing a more effective allocation system for the country’s land needs more urgent attention if civil strife is to be avoided. For example, in March 2016 disputes between herders and rural populations in the north-eastern town of Bouna left over 20 people dead and required swift intervention from security forces.
Insufficient land registration, as well as the challenges of enforcing legitimate titles and the government’s agricultural use of land is a common problem, and one that affects private investment in the sector. “Sometimes the government will allocate a specific land plot for your use, but when you get there other people are already on your land, and then it becomes your problem,” Fortunée Te, general manager at Compagnie d’Investissement Céréaliers, an international firm that distributes agricultural products and manages rice plantations in Africa, told OBG.
As part of efforts to enforce more widespread legal ownership of land, the government passed the 1998 rural land code. This gave traditional land owners a period of 10 years to register the property and obtain the necessary titles, with this period extended for an additional 10 years in 2013. Despite these efforts, the majority of rural land in the country remains unregistered. In 2016 the government created the Rural Land Agency (Agence Foncière Rurale, AFOR), tasked with enforcing the 1998 rural land code, helping to register and structure rural lands. To do so, the agency has run a National Programme for the Securing of Agricultural Land, which is supported by financial backing from the EU and the World Bank.
In order to encourage investment, the government is implementing initiatives to help major international investors secure access to land. Largescale international investors looking to obtain land for agricultural purposes have had support from the government. Budgeted at CFA2trn (€3bn), authorities announced in early 2014 that the state would be making 24m ha of agricultural land available for private investors, as part of the 2012-16 National Agricultural Investment Programme. The government’s targeted efforts have seen large-scale agro-industrial groups – such as Cargill, Olam, Nestlé and Cemoi – expand their operations in Côte d’Ivoire. This has positively impacted production in cocoa, coffee and cashew, among other produce, in recent years.
However, land conflicts have disproportionally affected small-scale farmers. In partnership with multilateral organisations, the government is seeking to reduce the occurrences of land conflicts through the Village Committees for Rural Land Management. The government secured CFA3.8bn (€5.7m) to create the entity in February 2017. International financing is also supporting the AFOR in its efforts to establish village limits and their surrounding areas.
Subsistence farming still provides a stable source of income for many in the country, and as such authorities need to continue efforts to address land ownership regulation for small-scale farmers. Additionally, improved land ownership management will be critical in attracting higher levels of foreign investment.