Land Reform: Prospects and Challenges

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By Clemens H. Kashuupulwa

Since independence, the Swapo Party-led government has faced many challenges in the distribution of land to landless Namibians. This was caused by the racial skewed land distribution pattern the government inherited from the apartheid-colonial system to which 52 percent of land was declared as commercial land and 48 percent as communal land. The commercial land was exclusively for 30 percent, white farming households, while communal land/reserve land accommodated 70 percent of the Namibian indigenous people. In June 1991, a National Conference on Land Reforms was held in Windhoek, attended by all population groups of the Namibian nation to discuss Namibia’s land question. The Conference reached consensus to redistribute land on “a compensatory willing-seller, willing-buyer basis”, the process that was very slow, costly and cumbersome in practice.
However, progress was made after the government introduced “the National Poverty Reduction Action Programme” that aimed at “equitable distributions of land, access to land, promoting sustainable economic growth, reduce income inequalities and poverty and the implementation of redistribution of land reform”. These programmes have been guided by the policy of national reconciliation and many other legislation that are in line with the SWAPO-Party Manifestos, NDP 2, NDP3 and Vision 2030.

This opinion piece is an attempt to analyze government efforts in the implementation process of National Poverty Reduction Action Programmes and possible prospects and challenges towards poverty reduction with reference to both the communal land reform and commercial land reform in Namibia.

Commercial Land Reform and distribution

Progress has been achieved in the distribution of land to the landless Namibian people in the commercial sector. Since 1995, the State has
budgeted N$20 million annually to purchase commercial farmland for resettlement purposes. The budget was increased to N$50 million in 2003 after the Swapo Party Congress in 2002 passed a resolution to increase the budget to speed up the process of land distribution to the needy people.

Since 2002, the government has acquired 100 farms of more than 745.9 ha in the commercial land on “willing seller willing buyer” at the cost on N$144.9 million.

The money was used for National Resettlement Programme [NRP] and for the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme [AALS] that benefited so far 167 families, 89 men and 78 women households.

The process is continuing as government now budgets N$50 million annually to buy more farms in the commercial area for land distribution and poverty reduction among the former disadvantaged population group.

Communal Land Reform

For the purpose of Communal Land Reform, an Act was promulgated and implemented in 2002 for the development of some parts of communal land into “small-scale commercial farming units” in Caprivi, Kavango, Ohangwena,
Omaheke, Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto and Otjozondjupa regions where “4 million ha of under-utilized land in communal land was identified to develop and improve agricultural productivity in rural areas”. So far, with the introduction of 12 communal land Boards, 1 061 new customary land rights, 3 095 existing customary rights, 60 new household rights and 17 existing household rights” were allocated under Permission To Occupy certificates. [PTO]

Despite all these efforts in communal land reform, is there really progress in the development process of communal land to reduce poverty among the rural communities?

What has been the role of the government in the agricultural sector to promote sustainable economic growth, lower income inequalities and reduce poverty in rural areas?

What is the role of subsistence farmers in the mainstream of communal subsistence economy to reduce poverty and crate self-employment in the agro-pastoral industry in communal areas?

– The Role of the Namibian Government In Sustaining Economic Growth

For the past 18 years, the government has made great improvement to improve the agricultural sector for both the communal and commercial land “to ensure that all Namibians have equitable access to land utilization and to be used equitable and significantly for food security at both household and national level”. The main purpose of doing so is to support sustainable growth of Namibia’s economic growth while maintaining and improving land capacity to add value to Namibia’s Gross Domestic Production [GDP] output that stands currently at 4.8 percent in 2007, an increase of 4.6 percent compared to 2006. In other sectors such as fishing, mining, tourism and construction great strides were recorded, a decline was recorded in the agricultural sector in livestock marketing as a result of harsh climatic changes that put pressure on farmers both in the commercial and communal areas to have short falls in income accrued from livestock in the market.

Though the government did a lot to invest in land allocation to the landless people in the commercial agricultural sector, more needs to be done to invest in the communal agro-pastoral land to stimulate the subsistence agro-postural economy to supplement commercial land for the economic growth of Namibia. Such economic diversification in agronomic industry is needed for the successful implementation of the government’s Green Scheme development of irrigation based agronomic production in Kavango and
Caprivi regions in particular and the introduction of agronomic industries of fresh produce products [milk, yoghurt, marula, sorghum, guava and mahangu based drinks] in general in the central northern regions to boost and transform the traditional way of agronomic processing of fresh products in finished commodities for commercial marketing.

Agricultural products in communal areas remain the untapped resources and mainstay of the rural economy to provide good income to the rural communities to earn a living. What is needed is to introduce appropriate technologies and impart knowledge and skills through training mahangu subsistence farmers and providing them with incentives funding to eke-out for themselves by improving production on a sustainable basis for marketing increase agronomic products to earn a living and to add value to the economic growth of the country.

Investment by the Namibian Government in the Agricultural Sector

The government commitments to invest more in the agricultural sector, the communal agricultural field in particular is needed to empowering rural farmers’ participation to reduce poverty and create self-employment opportunities to earn a better living and thereby preventing the influx of people to urban areas for employment opportunities. By so doing, the rate of crime can also be reduced sustainably among the youth that is currently rising unabated. Thus government programmes in the agricultural sector targeting infrastructural development, training courses in planning, management and marketing are commendable to farmers to impart skills and knowledge to farmers to run their agricultural projects on commercial basis.

According to the government’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework for 2008/2009 to 2010 /2011 in 2005/2006 alone, the government spent in the agriculture sector N$628.6 million in 2007/2008 financial year and N$644.7 in agricultural advice, training, infrastructure development, planning, marketing and food security as well as on intergraded resources management, rural water supply and forestry while it pledges again N$9486 million this financial year [2008/2009] to continue investing in the same programmes.

This is a huge investment in the agricultural sector alone. The outcome among many other things, the government is targeting “to improve a agricultural technologies, strengthening agricultural institutions towards improved service delivery, promotion linkages with all stakeholders, ensure bottom-up approach from community driven expectations concerning animal health and marketing, empower women to obtain and improve livestock whereby their food security and income can improve, reduce poverty and improve livelihood on rural population”.

So far so good, but the question still remains as to where we are now in bringing rural subsistence farmers in the mainstream of the development of agricultural sector?

Challenges

To “ensure a bottom-up approach from community-driven expectations” regarding poverty reduction and rural livelihood improvement of rural community through marketing facilities, there is not much to celebrate now.
Many people in rural areas are living in poverty for many reasons. Persistent drought situation for the past 18 years is the biggest challenge Namibia faces now.

Climatic changes involving flood and armyworms are other factors that hampered successful crop production for the past few years as well as the introduction of appropriate farming technologies to the communal land farmers. Hence, poverty in the central northern region is a big challenge. In
Oshana Region alone, 31.5 percent out of 90 percent of its households are living in poverty in a subsistence agro-pastoral-based economy. The population of the region is 161 916 with an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent. The rural population is 69 percent compared to the urban population of 31 percent sprawling in Oshakati, Ongwediva and Ondangwa towns. The unemployment rate is 41 percent compared to the economically active labour force of 59 percent according to the 2001 Population and Housing Census.

Oshana Region’s main source of income is topped by subsistence farming rate of 48 percent, salaries and wages of 30 percent, business 9.5 percent, pension 3.9 percent according to Oshana Regional Poverty Profile of 2006 launched recently in the region.

With the region’s subsistence agro-pastoral based economy of an income of 48 percent and 9.5 percent from the business people in rural area alone, it is not wrong to commend that under normal circumstance poverty is subjective in Oshana Region. It can be reduced at the low level by investing more money in the improvement of mahangu crops subsistence farming and the introduction of the development of agro-industrial technologies to enhance an enabling economically viable environment through an effective public-private partnership.

This can stimulate the long stagnant communal subsistence economy to add value to the economic growth of the country and thereby creating food security, self-sufficiency, introduction of nutritional products and employment creation in regions that predominantly situated in agro-pastoral communal based economy.

The Role of the Namibia National Farmers Union

As the government is now busy trying to reduce poverty in rural areas by adding more resources “to speed up the development and implementation of the transformation of Economic and Social Empowerment Framework” [TESEF] the Namibia National Farmers Union [NNFU] should also organize itself better into a strong and credible communal farmers union.

It needs to form up regional communal farmer cooperatives drawn from members from former disadvantaged subsistence agro-pastoral farmers on asset-based entity. Many of them are property owners of tractors others are local business people. They can transfer assets both immovable and movable in one cooperatives and change sole business ploughing/weighing attitudes to be in joint-venture with potential local SMEs to have a strong financial base that can be subsidized by the government to transform communal mahangu subsistence farming into a commercial mahangu crop production cooperatives.

Forming up asset based cooperatives in the agro-pastoral communal land in joint venture with potential local small, medium enterprises [SMEs] the challenge of the stagnant subsistence economic growth will be overcome.

Commercial banking institutions can also provide loans to such cooperatives as there will be a potentiality to grow and managed profitably. Indeed, such cooperatives can access financial services, professional advice in agriculture training to run its administrative affairs and marketing places, by the government as it contributes to the growth of economy and crop industrial development.

Many unemployed people can be absorbed in these cooperatives as well.
Such business diversification is viable and demand driven in the agricultural sector in the communal land to contribute to rural development and rural poverty reduction in the agro-pastoral communal dominated regions.

If government subsidies are to be spent on well organized regional crop/mahangu cooperatives, this will be money well spent and economic business diversification leading to better growth rates and stability “in cooperative incomes so as the government to attain its broad goal in the agricultural sector of “ensuring food security and improve nutritional status, create and sustain viable livelihood and empowerment opportunities of rural areas”.

This goal of improving communal subsistence farming is long overdue for implementation now.

If agro-pastoral industries is to be set up and economic growth is to be achieved, communal small and medium mahangu/ crops enterprises must take a lead to mobilize and organize themselves better.

The government, in its NDP3 is already in the process “to promote complementary farmer livelihood opportunities, expand vertical integration and domestic value added for agricultural products and to promote sustainable utilization of the nation’s land and national resources, contribute to balance regional rural and regional development base on comparative advantages”. Government by so doing is targeting to improve animal health and production, enhancing marketable animals, increase marketing places and slaughtering of animal for national consumption and meat exports. The government has already budgeted all these according to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework [MTEF] for 2008/2009 to 2010/2011 financial year.

The big challenge now is on how the Namibia National Farmers Union [NNFU] can reorganize itself in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry [MWAF] to come up with organized regional crop mahangu cooperatives to fill this business demand gap in the agricultural sector.
Namibia is expected to be an industrialized country by the year 2030 with successes in the growth of communal economy dominated by agronomic industries to which rural people are self sufficiency and self reliant in producing their products in an environment that is industrialized and economically sustainable to farmers in rural areas.

This participation is needed to achieve Vision 2030.

In conclusion, NNFU and local SMEs have great opportunities to be involved in the development of communal land reform in the regions predominately under agro-pastoral economic stagnation, to improve productivity, marketing and processing raw materials into consumable finished products for export.

Local SMEs can also come up with light and medium industries to process fresh produce of dairies such as yoghurt, fresh milk, guava-juice and marula drinks, sorghum of mahangu based drinks as well as food processing products of any kind.

It is high time now to act.

Tomorrow it will be too late as we cannot escape the blame of ignoring communal subsistence economy reform in Namibia.
The communal subsistence economy reform in the country is a socio-economic phenomenon to be reckoned with and the Namibia National Farmers Union needs to be proactive in ensuring that it continues to create and sustain accelerated economic growth in our country.

Clemens H. Kashuupulwa is the Governor of Oshana Region.

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