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November 19, 2008

Namibian land reform makes progress despite problems

by Brigitte Weidlich

Almost two decades after independence Namibia’s land reform shows positive results and is guided by fair laws, but bureaucracy, slow progress in transformation of land ownership and unclear criteria for expropriation are overshadowing successes.

Government plans to spend 370 million dollars over the next 12 years to acquire 10,3 million hectares of commercial farmland to resettle 6,730 families by 2020.

Another five million ha of communal land will be portioned off into small farming units for citizens previously disadvantaged by colonialism and South Africa’s imposition of apartheid policies on the territory. This will require an additional 5,3 million dollars a year, says a report of the ministry of lands and resettlement.

Agriculture contributes around 6.5 percent to the country’s gross domestic product.

According to the ministry of lands, 240,000 applicants are on its list for resettlement, but the list has never been made public. Any previously disadvantaged Namibian, rich or poor can apply.

Government has bought 256 farms since independence and 2,000 families have been resettled. The land ministry’s annual budget for land acquisition increased from two to five million dollars in 2003. During the financial year 2007-08, ending in March, 17 commercial farms were bought for eight million dollars. Prices averaged between 100,000 dollars to one million dollars per farm.

‘‘This figure clearly demonstrates that the allocation of five million dollars annually for land acquisition is not sufficient, given the high prices of land,’’ lands minister Alfeus Naruseb told Namibia’s parliament recently.

Another three million dollars per annum to buy farms comes from a land tax all farm owners have had to pay since 2005.

Namibia was a colony of Imperial Germany between 1884 and 1915, then placed under British mandate after World War I and administered by South Africa. The latter became an independent republic in 1961 and its apartheid policies were also applied in Namibia.

Independence for Namibia and its two million inhabitants (2008 figures) came only in 1990 under UN supervision. Namibians inherited a skewed land distribution pattern.

Of approximately 69,6 million ha suitable for agriculture, 36,2 million ha (52 percent) were in the hands of white farmers in 1990. Some 33,4 ha (48 percent) was communal land, where 70 percent of the population lived. This figure has dropped to 65 percent due to urban migration.

The post-independence government held a national conference in 1991 to determine land reform but made clear that land taken from indigenous inhabitants under the two colonial regimes could not be claimed back, dashing all hopes of ethnic groups to have ancestral land returned to them.

Land reform started in 1995 when the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act was passed, allowing the state to buy farms from white owners for resettlement of previously disadvantaged Namibians.

Since then, every commercial farmer who wants to sell must first offer the farm to the ministry of lands and resettlement, based on the ‘‘willing seller, willing buyer’’ principle. After inspection, the ministry either buys the farm at a market-related price, or – if not interested – issues a waiver certificate, which allows the farmer to sell it on the open market.

The Namibian constitution provides for property and land expropriation by the state ‘‘in the public interest, subject to payment of just compensation’’ and allows aggrieved owners to turn to a court or tribunal to seek redress.

Five white-owned farms have been expropriated since 2005. Another three landowners successfully contested expropriation in court this year, proving the process was flawed on the side of the lands ministry, which must start the procedure anew.

About 30 white farm owners have received letters from the ministry since 2005, telling them to sell their farms to government.

‘‘I don’t make any large investments in my farm anymore and I have scaled down maize and wheat production,’’ a farmer said. ‘‘I fear that I will also receive a letter from the lands ministry that I must sell my farm.’’

‘‘We support land reform but the criteria for expropriation should be spelt out and change of ownership should not mean that agricultural productivity drops,’’ says Sakkie Coetzee, chief executive of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) which represents most of the 4,000 predominantly white commercial farmers.

‘‘The majority of resettled people come from communal (rural) areas and most don’t know how to farm commercially and lack money to repair infrastructure like fences, water points and wind pumps.’’

Post-settlement support is often lacking from the understaffed agriculture ministry, with extension officers unable to regularly visit all resettlement farms in the vast country.

The farms are divided into three to four smaller portions of minimum 1,000 ha for each family under a 99-year lease but they do not have title deeds and, as a result, no collateral to obtain loans.

The other arm of land redistribution is through preferential loans from the state-owned AgriBank for previously disadvantaged Namibians to buy farms on the open market if they can put down 10 percent of the price as a deposit.

Since introduction in 1992, 755 farms – 3,4 million ha - changed to black ownership and another 271 farms were bought by black people with regular bank loans.

‘‘Over 1,000 farms are now owned privately by black people and altogether six million hectares have been redistributed, if you add the resettlement farms of government. The target of 15 million ha redistributed by 2020 looks realistic,’’ according to Ryno van der Merwe, NAU president.

The NAU, together with an organisation of black farmers (Namibia National Farmers Union), runs a successful two-year support programme for emerging (black) commercial farmers, funded with one million dollars by the European Union.

‘‘This ends in May 2009. We hope it can be extended and that the EU is willing to fund it,’’ says programme manager Bertus Kruger. ‘‘We realise that resettlement beneficiaries urgently need training. Maybe we can expand to include them if there is a next phase.’’

According to Hannu Shipena of the lands ministry, resettled families will from next year receive a small once-off cash grant (4,000 dollars) and a credit line for an AgriBank loan to buy livestock or for farm infrastructure.

‘‘These packages will be in three categories and go up to 12,000 dollars, with the loan guarantee from government making up two thirds of the package,’’ Shipena explains.

‘‘Government spends billions on land reform but should the land, which was robbed by colonisers from the people, be paid for?’’ asks Alfred Angula, general secretary of the Namibia Agricultural Workers Union (Nafwu).

‘‘The white land owners should share their land and train their farm workers to be productive on the portions they should voluntarily give to them,’’ he demands. About 50,000 workers are employed on farms in Namibia.

The third pillar of Namibia’s complex land reform is in communal rural areas. These belong to the state and people have customary land rights allocated by traditional chiefs. Most families have for generations been living on and using the land for subsistence farming.

The government this year embarked on mapping these estimated 236,000 land parcels – around 25 ha each - and issuing land right certificates. ‘‘This work must be done in seven of the country’s 13 regions and will cost around 7,9 million dollars,’’ according to Richard Wittmer, the registration technical advisor for the project.

‘‘It will take a generation until land reform is accomplished – at an enormous cost for the sake of peace,’’ Nafwu’s Angula predicts.


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