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August 09, 2010

Namibia: People want land as a home, not so much for farming

by Brigitte Weidlich

Many resettlement beneficiaries regard access to State land as a possibility to have a 'permanent and secure home' rather than engaging in farming to earn an income, a new report on land reform in Namibia has revealed.

"Many poor [resettlement] beneficiaries do not necessarily want a piece of land large enough for farming commercially. The research undertaken in Hardap and Omaheke Regions revealed that the main priority of a great many beneficiaries was to obtain access to land on which to establish a secure home of their own," the report said.

"The absence of alternative resettlement models left them with no option other than to apply for a small-scale farm, and if successful, to obtain access to a piece of land exceeding 1 000 hectares, which they never had any intention of farming except on a household subsistence level."

The 180-page report, titled 'Livelihoods after land reform', is the result of three years of research done by the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), the University of the Western Cape in South Africa and the University of Sussex in Britain. It was recently completed but the LAC is still awaiting response from the Lands Ministry to launch it officially.

Many resettlement farms were like a 'welfare project' to give people homes, like on Skoonheid Farm, where large groups of San people were given a place to live. Everything should be done to prevent such farms from turning into squatter camps. Rather, large community gardens could be kept there and market access provided for them to sell their produce in nearby towns, the experts recommended.

Farming units on farms bought by Government for resettlement and partitioned off by the Lands Ministry were too small, the report stated.

"Current farming unit sizes on resettlement farms, particularly in areas where cattle farming is the predominant economic activity, may not enable beneficiaries to become independent small-scale commercial farmers, let alone accumulate sufficient assets to become medium- or large-scale commercial farmers," the authors noted. Average sizes for resettled beneficiaries are around 1 000 and 1 200 ha in areas with better rainfall and 3 000 ha in southern Namibia.

The maximum number of cattle that can be kept on a 1 000-ha unit is 68 animals.

"Even if units of 1 500 ha were allowed, the maximum number of cattle would be 100 or two-thirds of the minimum 150 large livestock units (LSU) required to be considered for an affirmative action loan scheme (AALS) loan. Successful land reform beneficiaries therefore face a ceiling on their progress," the report stated.

A resettlement farming unit of 1 000 ha would only yield annual income of about N$37 500, while a 3 000-hectare unit would only bring in N$60 480 per year.

Apart from these concerns, the question not yet answered is whether the current small-scale commercial farming model can indeed address the needs and aspirations of asset-poor people as the national resettlement policy proposes to do.

"The short answer must be that it does not. The research confirmed a finding of the Permanent Technical Team on Land Reform (PTT) in 2004 that in many instances, the size of the land allocated did not match with the beneficiaries' productive assets, particularly livestock numbers."

The report recommended that the current minimum farm unit sizes should be reviewed on the basis of available economic and financial data to possibly increasing them.

"Failing to do so may result in more beneficiaries relying on the financial support of the Lands Ministry, particularly with regard to infrastructure development and maintenance."

The experts further concluded that available evidence suggests that resettlement beneficiaries with very few assets "are unlikely to make a financial success of their land allocations".

"They will either get poorer and/or remain dependent on the Lands Ministry. A large number of asset-poor people are in need of both access to land and tenure security, not necessarily for the purpose of farming commercially."

The report recommended that the needs of people with few assets, such as farmworkers, be clearly identified, and that appropriate resettlement models should be developed to meet the needs of those who do not want to farm commercially.

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