Of Tanzania’s total land area of 885,800 sq km, over 44% is agricultural land and 27% is permanent pasture [1]Agriculture accounts for 24% of the GDP, 30% of total exports and 65% of raw materials for Tanzanian industries and 52% of Tanzania’s total land area is classified as forest [1].

In the country, the percentage of land considered degraded increased from 42% in 1980 to almost 50% in 2012 (URT-VPO, 2014b)[2]. Furthermore, Tanzania’s third report on the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) showed that nearly two thirds of the country’s drylands are seriously degraded. The extent and magnitude vary across regions, depending on the type and intensity of the economic activities that drive the degradation [2]. For example, the agroecological zones in the plateau, semiarid, and southern highlands, are far more degraded than the other agroecological zones in the country [2].

In Tanzania, soil fertility is being lost, which in turn undermines smallholder farmers’ food security. Soil samples from different parts of the country show significant weathering, exposing the land’s inability to support plant growth to sustain subsistence agriculture (Funakawa et al., 2012) [2].


Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of agricultural land is considered the most critical direct driver of land degradation [2]. In line with global trends, deforestation, agricultural expansion coupled with poor farming practices, and overgrazing are among the key causes of land degradation in Tanzania [2].

For example, in some areas in Kondoa the combination of too many livestock on an area as well as poor cropping practices have turned parts of the land into gullies.

The mining sector is another cause of land degradation in Tanzania through destruction of natural habitats, chemical spills and inadequate rehabilitation after closure [3]. Up until the 1990s exploitation of minerals was limited, but since then the mining industry’s contribution to the national economy is increasing, and the national goal is for the mining sector to reach 10% of GDP by 2050. 

Deforestation is a major driver of land degradation as well, caused by high charcoal and firewood demand for domestic and industrial use; illegal and unsustainable harvesting of forest products: forest fires; agricultural expansion; overgrazing and nomadic pastoral practices; infrastructure development; settlement and resettlement; and introduction of alien and invasive species [4].


Key policies and governance approach

The Constitution of Tanzania (1977, as amended, 1998) provides that every person has the right to own property and the right to have his or her property protected in accordance with the law (GOT Constitution 1977). The 1995 Land Policy reaffirmed that all land in Tanzania is considered public land vested in the President as trustee on behalf of all citizens and established the fundamental principles guiding land rights use and management, which maintained centralized control of land. The Policy also recognizes rights based longstanding occupation of land; it encourages productive and sustainable use, notes that women have the same rights to land as men and promotes transparency and citizen participation in decision making related to land.

The Land Policy was followed by the adoption of the Land Act and Village Land Act in 1999, both of which are currently under review for formal amendment (as of 2016). Tanzania’s Land Act classifies land as: (i) Reserved land (ii) Village land and (iii) General land. At the same time, in Zanzibar, all land was vested in the government in 1965. The Land Tenure Act of 1992 provides that the government can grant rights of occupation, which are perpetual and transferable, moreover the government can cancel the occupation-right if the holder fails to use the land in accordance with good land use principles. The government also retains the right to approve any transfer of land rights under the Land Transfer Act of 1994 [1].

Tanzania’s land policies are also rooted within other national framework - the Tanzania’s National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty I and II (MKUKUTA I and II). MKUKUTA II insists on the fact that surveying and securing land rights for both Tanzanians and investors are crucial to reduce land conflicts. The policy aims at giving smallholders access to credit to promote investment of their assets through an expected increased productivity, and it wishes to provide a conducive business environment which will foster much needed agricultural foreign-direct investments [5].

The President of Tanzania serves as the trustee of all land and is responsible for allocations of General land. The Ministry of Lands and Human Settlement Development (MLHSD) generally executes these responsibilities. The mandate of the MLHSD is to facilitate the effective management of land and human settlements development services for the social and economic well-being of the Tanzanian society. The Ministry houses the Departments of Land Administration, Survey and Mapping, Physical Planning, and Housing which directs the establishment of land policy and planning and is responsible for administering Reserved land and General land, including the allocation of granted occupancy rights and management of the country’s land resources [1].


Successes and remaining challenges

Tanzania’s land laws contain progressive elements in terms of recognizing customary land rights and granting them equal weight and validity to formally granted land rights. However, land insecurity in rural areas is high among small landholder farmers, pastoralists, and women. In urban areas, land is secured through formal and informal land transactions including land allocation from a municipality in an urban or peri-urban area and land purchase, but it is estimated that nearly 60% of urban dwellers live in informal settlements and lack tenure security. In general, women’s rights to land are relatively well supported in Tanzania’s formal legal framework. However, despite helpful laws, women continue to face the threat of losing their land as customary laws and norms favor male inheritance. Widowhood or divorce leads to some women losing their land to other, more powerful family members [1].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Governmental measures to combat land degradation include the National Action Plan to combat desertification (NAP) of 2001 and Strategy for Urgent Actions on Land Degradation and Water Catchments of 2006. Moreover, some forests are under protection: of the total forest area, about 180 000 sq km is protected, with 160 000 sq km in forest reserves and 20 000 sq km in national parks [6].

Tanzania is also part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, an effort to restore 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa by 2030, but is yet to prepare its commitment [2].

Moreover, with its participation to the Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Programme, the country seeks to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality by 2030 through [7]:

  • The restoration of forests through sustainable forest management;
  • Prevention and avoidance of the decline of land productivity;
  • Improvement in land productivity of shrub and grassland;
  • Improvement in land productivity of croplands;
  • increase soil organic carbon in cropland to 54.5tons/ha;
  • Reduce loss of top soil through soil erosion by 19tons/ha.


Goals and Ambitions

One of Tanzania´s main goals is to restore 5.2 million hectares of degraded and deforested land as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative under the Bonn Challenge [8].


By moving towards giving title to land, Tanzania stands a good chance for big investment in land resources, as well as for increased agricultural productivity. Secure land tenure will result in environmental protection if accompanying with the following options:

  • Adhering to correct livestock units, as well as enhance intensive agro-pastoral activities such as zero grazing where possible.
  • Continued efforts in afforestation and ecosystem restoration across the country and control of forest fires. Farm afforestation will reduce pressure on natural forests for wood
  • Promotion of non-agricultural income generating activities to vulnerable areas so as to reduce pressure on natural resources.
  • Cross-sectoral coordination for improved livelihood of the people by harmonizing all policy issues.