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In general, customary tenure is a pattern of land access, occupation, use and/or control that operates parallel to statutory tenure. It can refer to the relationship between people, as individuals or groups, with a specific land area and its natural resources. In its technical guide on governance of tenure, FAO, defines customary tenure, as the local rules, institutions and practices governing land, fisheries and forests that are not often written down, but that, over time and use, have gained social legitimacy and become embedded in the fabric of a society. Customary tenure is based on local practices and norms, and is flexible, negotiable and location specific.
Customary tenure systems are continually evolving as a result of interrelated and diverse factors such as cultural interactions, socio economic change and political processes. According to the definition of GLTN, the governance and rules in a customary tenure system consist of laws and norms regulating land and natural-resource rights that could emerge from long-held customs associated with common kinship, ancestry, religion and heritage.
Another term related to customary land tenure is “indigenous tenure.” This term is more contested in Africa because, although most Africans, distinct from, their colonizers, are indigenous to the continent. The African Union’s Commission on Human and People’s Rights refers to indigenous peoples by themes and has settled for a socio-psychological description, as mainly hunter-gatherers and pastoralists whose cultural, economic and land-tenure systems are often subordinate to a dominate group or groups within a country or across state borders.