THE announcement by the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources that it will finalise the revision of the national land policy by the end of this quarter is good news to the nation.
Good news indeed because the exercise has dragged on for a long time.
Land being a sensitive issue affecting multifaceted competing interests, we feel it is time the amendment of the policy was concluded so that Zambians can start benefitting from this natural resource.
As Minister of Lands and Natural Resources Jean Kapata said on Tuesday, the revision of the national land policy will provide a favourable environment for the country to realise a diversified and resilient economy.
This can only be achieved with wide participation by all the layers of the Zambian society.
The seriousness the ministry is attaching to this important exercise is commendable because many stakeholders have for a long time been complaining about the weaknesses in the administration of land in this country.
In its current form, the land administration system leaves little room for the empowerment of citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable rural communities.
The dual legal framework, which provides for both statutory and customary tenure, has made the waters even murkier for the ordinary citizen to access land.
The current Constitution vests land in the republican President, but also allows chiefs to hold and administer customary land in trust.
Under the current laws, the traditional leaders are only allowed to allocate up to 250 hectares, beyond which they have to involve Government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and its agents, the local authorities.
However, because of weak provisions in both the policy and statute, some chiefs have been allocating huge chunks of land to mainly foreigners in exchange for peanuts.
Hundreds of their poor subjects, who do not have the economic muscle to take on the rich investors, have therefore been displaced from land they have occupied and tilled for decades.
This has exacerbated and perpetuated rural poverty.
Oftentimes, because Government regards traditional leaders as partners in social and economic development, the erring chiefs have gone scot-free while their hapless subjects have remained displaced for good.
President Edgar Lungu has on several occasions advised the chiefs to be sensitive to the welfare of their subjects every time they are being enticed to part with vast swaths of land.
He and a number of his ministers have advised the chiefs to engage the central government when dealing with investors so that the interests of their subjects are protected.
But in the absence of a strong land policy that strikes a balance between the needs of the rich investors and the local people, confusion and blatant exploitation of the poor continue to characterise the administration of the natural resource, both in rural and urban areas.
Our country seems to be the only one in southern Africa and beyond where foreigners are able to own vast tracts of land as easily as buying a tube of toothpaste off a supermarket shelf.
Conversely, it is almost impossible for a Zambian to own land in any of our neighbouring countries no matter how long he or she may have worked or lived there.
This is one of the many thorny issues Government is seeking to address through the amendment of the national land policy.
The adoption and validation of the policy will pave the way for citizen-centred amendments to land-related statutes as well.
We hope the revised policy will be comprehensive enough to address the difficulties women and the youth have been facing when acquiring land in Zambia despite Government allotting a quota for them.
There are still numerous barriers denying women opportunities to own land, which we hope the revised policy will help resolve.
The document should have clear provisions for affirmative action such as quotas for women and the youth if the current inequalities in land ownership are to be narrowed and ultimately closed.