By Kizito Makoye
MKURANGA, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Hawa Amiri decided to use her land title to ask for a bank loan to start a poultry business, her fellow farmers thought she was wasting her time.
"I wanted do something different to expand my income," she said.
The 37 year-old is among a growing group of farmers in the Mkiu village in the Mkuranga district of Tanzania's coast region who have learned how to use their ownership of land as an asset for borrowing money.
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"I went to the bank and the loan officers were impressed with my business plan. I got the loan in a few days," she said.
Most farmers in Amiri's impoverished village were unable to use their land profitably until 2004 when the government launched a nationwide program to identify property and business assets in the informal sector, estimated to be worth $27 billion, and turn them into legally held entities.
Since then, thousands of farms have been surveyed and land titles issued to farmers like Amiri, who grows maize, potatoes and pineapples on her eight hectare (20 acre) farm.
"I was struggling to feed my own family because of prolonged drought," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "When the rains came, they caused floods that destroyed the crops."
LOAN BRINGS SECURITY
Amiri has been able to diversify and reduce her reliance on crops by building a small business with her 5 million Tanzanian shilling ($2,284) loan, supplying locally bred chickens to customers in nearby Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city.
Since she was able to invest in her poultry business, Amiri said she no longer feels insecure about her livelihood and family's future.
"I am getting a lot of profit because the demand for chicken is quite big," Amiri, who is married with four children, said.
"I was a laughing stock when I was applying for a bank loan, but those who were laughing at me now come for advice."
Although agriculture, which employs around 85 per cent of the population, is considered to be the backbone of Tanzania's workforce, analysts said many farmers simply do not have the skills and financial resources needed to improve and build on their assets.
The program to legitimize and formalize properties and businesses, known in Swahili as Mkurabita, aims to address this problem by educating farmers.
Once they have been issued with a title, farmers are taught how their land can be valued and used to access bank loans and financial capital for re-investment into their businesses and farms.
Seraphia Mgembe, the program coordinator, said that since its launch 12 years ago, a total of 110,331 farms in 208 villages had been surveyed and 65,600 customary land titles issued to individuals.
"We think that this is an important step in addressing poverty since farmers will be using their land as an asset to access bank credits," she said.
According to Mgembe, more and more farmers are keen to use customary land titles to get a bank loan, to the tune of 2.4 billion Kenyan shillings.
"I was able to get a bank loan because I had a land title issued under this initiative, I wouldn't be here today had my land not been surveyed," Amiri said.
Mkurabita is a Tanzanian incarnation of the ideas of Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto who argues poverty remains entrenched in the developing world because assets such as land, housing or small businesses remain informal and do not benefit from the wealth building benefits of formal modern economies.
Despite the program's success the principles behind Mkurabita have been challenged by civil society groups which question its emphasis on the individualization of land ownership and the use of registered land rights to obtain credit.
Other hurdles stymieing the profitability of land use include the high costs of starting a business, analysts said.
"It is a good start but still a lot of work is yet to be done to get everybody into the formalized system," said Benson Bana, a political scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam.
"Once businesses are formalized, the government could widen its tax base and eke out more revenues to run its affairs," he said.
Studies on the informal sector in Tanzania indicate that more than 90 per cent of properties and business activities in the country operate in the extra-legal sector due to people's reluctance to navigate regulatory and bureaucratic red tape.
"If farmers can use their land to access loans and improve their lives, I don't see why should anyone live in poverty,” said Amiri.
(Reporting by Kizito Makoye, Editing by Paola Totaro and Astrid Zweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)