Economics serving society

Land Certification and Schooling in Rural Ethiopia

Heather Congdon Fors, Kenneth Houngbedji and Annika Lindskog

To grow agricultural productivity and promote food security, several sub-Saharan African countries have launched programmes aimed at formalising land rights in rural areas. This certification consists, among other things, of publishing official documents recognising households’ informal usage rights to land. The formalisation of land rights hitherto only implied, is carried out in the hope of reducing the risk of expropriation, encouraging investment and facilitating the transfer of land rights among individuals. Indeed, in rural areas, land is often a household’s main capital: land questions play a highly significant role in the lives of individuals and are influential in many spheres of decision-making.

In this article, Congdon Fors, Houngbedji and Lindskog study the impact of land rights certification on the education and work of children in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. They analyse how formalised land rights affect the transfer of land from one generation to another. Given household desires to keep control of land within the family, maximum ease of transfer of ownership from parents to eldest son leads to a division of the latter’s time between learning in the fields and schooling. While this arbitrage leads to a reduction in the eldest child’s study – or leisure – time, it can also lead to parents considering education as an option for their other children. This model predicts, then, that the impact of land rights certification on schooling levels will vary according to the birth order of the child. To test the hypothesis, the authors compare the education profiles of children before and after informal use rights have been transformed into formal land rights. They find that the probability of being educated rises with the certification of land rights. At the same time, however, eldest sons, and sometimes daughters, scarcely progress from one class to the next. Their poor academic performance raises questions about the return to school of children who have been de-schooled, and of academic support for those who are destined to inherit the family farm. In the Ethiopian case, it would be interesting to test whether a combination of land rights certification and academic support could promote the schooling of all children, regardless of their birth order.

Original title of the article : “Land Certification and Schooling in Rural Ethiopia”
Published in : PSE Working Papers n° 2015-30. 2015
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