Assessing customary land rights and tenure security variations of smallholder farmers in northwest Ghana

B.B. Nara*, M Lengoiboni, J.A. Zevenbergen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
111 Downloads (Pure)


Variations and inequalities generally exist in society regarding the distribution of resources including land. This paper assessed variations/inequalities of customary land rights and tenure security among subsistence/smallholder farmers in northwest Ghana using the social structure theory. This exploratory study adopted focus group discussions, interviews of key informants and key persons in key institutions. It also used visual manual interpretation of satellite images. It found that male landowners irrespective of location in the study area, rank highest in terms of access, land rights and tenure security, followed by male settlers and all women. In other words, male landowners possess the strongest land rights and highest tenure security. Settlers (males) were next, possessing strong land rights and high tenure security. While all women irrespective of whether they are from landowner or settler groups had the weakest land rights and tenure security. This deviates from the tenets of the social structure theory, which presupposes that privileged indigene women from the landowning group would have stronger rights than non-indigene settlers (male or female). Fewer building development and vast uncultivated lands were revealed by the satellite images. This partly contradicts literature suggesting that more building infrastructure causes land scarcity, which may lead to land rights variations/inequalities. This research rather concludes that the anticipation of future land prospects primarily influences current land rights variations/inequalities and tenure insecurity especially in the rural areas. And agrees with literature that population growth and urbanisation contributes to land rights challenges mainly in the urban areas. The findings from this research are useful for having identified a context-based land rights and tenure variations. The research also shows the nature and extent of the variations and therefore gives indications regarding how, who and which land rights need to be strengthened. Besides, this study shows that local communities can be assisted by local government authorities, community leaders and community-based organisations to sensitise themselves to protect the land rights of the vulnerable in society. The study also reveals an essential community potential i.e. their readiness to cooperate with efforts (whether local or external), towards narrowing land rights variations that further marginalises the already marginalised all women and male settlers. The paper recommends further studies to identify specific ways to address land rights variations and ensure tenure security among different groups.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105352
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalLand use policy
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • UT-Hybrid-D
  • Land rights
  • Subsistence/Smallholder farming
  • Customary arrangements
  • Northwest Ghana
  • Land tenure security


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