In her Annual Message to the Honorable Members of the National Legislature on Monday, January 26, 2015, President Sirleaf indicated that agriculture lands (suitable for crops and livestock) are about 27 percent of total land area, but only 4.6 percent of the land mass is currently under annual cultivation. She stated that land and the conflicts associated thereto have to be tackled in order to promote large scale agriculture in tree and food crops including the goal of self-sufficiency in rice.
She went on to assure the Honorable Members of the National Legislature that Government has responded to the problem associated with land ownership by the development of a new Land Rights Policy, which establishes the four land ownership rights categories of Public Land, Government Land, Private Land, and for the first time in the history of Liberia, a category of Customary Land Rights. The President said, the Land Rights Bill that was submitted to the National Legislature in December, 2014 represents a landmark piece of legislation. “It establishes the legal basis for recognition of customary land rights. For the first time in the nation’s history rural communities will be able to have their land rights legally recognized, and their lands identified, delineated, mapped, deeded, recorded, and properlymanaged and governed” the President said, ensued by applauds. She emphasized that implementation and enforcement of the Bill will be helped by the Criminal Conveyance of Land Bill, enacted by the Legislature and approved in 2014, which curtails fraudulent land sales and enhances access to land tenure security. “These instruments are critical to our social political and economic development and are consistent with our development programs”, President Sirleafaffirmed.
The Land Rights Policy states“Customary land whether or not the community has self-identified, or been issued deed is defined as land owned by a community and used and managed in accordance with customary practices and norms, and may include, but is not limited to wetlands, communal forest land, and fallow land. Customary land rights including the right of ownership, use or management are equally protected as Private Land rights, whether or not the community has self-identified, establish legal entity, or been issued a deed”.
The Land Rights Bill referred to by the President closely tracks the vision laid out in the Policy. But it also provides critical detail. Some of the more notable provisions concern: 1) the relationship between existing concessions and Customary Land ownership, 2) automatic recognition of customary land ownership, 3) land rights of community members within the collective landowning community, and 4) community governance institutions.