Population Growth: The Implications for Land Tenure and Food Security in Communal Areas | Land Portal

Photo: Farmers at the CuveWaters Green Village in Epyeshona, Northern Namibia, photo by ISOE Wikom, sourced from flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED license

 

Blog written by Celina Awala* and originally published on 31st March 2024 by The Namibian.


Namibia’s 2023 preliminary census figures show that the national population has increased by about 43,9% since 2011.

Specifically, the recently released figures show a population increase in the four north-central regions which are largely covered by the communal land tenure system.

This increase in the number of people means an increase in competing interests in resources, including land.

Under the communal land tenure system, land allocation is done by village headmen, supposedly under the watch of the Communal Land Board as stipulated by the Communal Land Reform Act (2002).

However, current practices on the ground do not seem to be well monitored, leaving the actual land allocation entirely dependent on the headmen without the land boards being involved.

As a result, uncontrolled land allocation is taking place in villages, threatening the availability of future allocations and encroaching into commonage – the right of pasturing animals on common land – for livestock grazing.

The increase in competing interests is exacerbated by the high demand for residential land through customary land rights by community members, as well as additional competing land rights such as leasehold rights introduced by the Communal Land Reform Act.

As a result, an increase in population presents a challenge for land tenure management in Namibia’s communal areas. 

 

LIVESTOCK AND LIVELIHOODS

From a land administration perspective, it means a continuous increase in subdividing land into smaller parts against its inelastic nature.

This threatens food security twofold at household level.

One, smaller parcels of land are practically unproductive as only a small part is cultivated.

Two, the subdivision further threatens food security from an animal husbandry perspective.

The subdivision of land both internally and new allocations encroaches into commonages designated as livestock grazing areas.

It is important to emphasise that livestocks play a pivotal role in ensuring food security at household level in Namibia’s communal areas. Traditionally, small livestock, such as goats and sheep, were kept at home to provide meat for household consumption as the need arose, whereas large stock animals provided milk, meat, and work power to plough fields during cultivation season.

This practice has proved difficult for many households in recent years as community members cannot keep livestock at home because of a lack of grazing areas.

For households who still keep livestock at home, there are continuous disputes and quarrels with neighbours over their animals destroying others’ crop fields which is a threat to peace and harmony in communities.

However, this critical land governance issue has not been adequately vocalised, making the practice a ticking time bomb.

 

LAND DILEMMA

This issue is a result of many factors such as unmonitored land allocation practices by village headmen, and the inefficient land administration system provided for by the Communal Land Reform Act.

Specifically, the unmonitored land allocation process by the headmen is not keeping pace with the official mapping, resulting in a backlog of unmapped and unrecorded allocations.

Further, there is an observed lack of awareness creation on the application and interpretation of the laws’ provisions by the responsible ministry for both headmen and community members. 

As observed in our far northern communal areas, specifically villages in the Okalongo constituency – e.g. Onamanape, Ohakuyela, Ondeikela, Onembaba and Onaame-handiya – no more suitable land is available for habitation and grazing except the oshanas, which become waterlogged during the rainy season which is the most critical time.

This dilemma forces community members to settle in waterlogged areas and cease livestock rearing, making them vulnerable to food insecurity.

 

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

There is an opportunity to address this issue by streamlining the existing land reform initiative, specifically the resettlement programme.

One of the objectives of the resettlement programme as stated in the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act (1995) is to alleviate pressure on communal areas by resettling people with large numbers of cattle.

Instead of resettling people based on livestock, this current situation must be one of the bases for resettlement, especially by targeting youth from the affected areas to divert the pressure of high residential land demand.

This action plan can be considered in the ongoing review of the National Resettlement Policy and implementation criteria.

We hope that in this way the programme can prioritise the resettlement of youth from fast-growing and densely populated areas to alleviate land allocation pressure from headmen and avoid the disaster of food insecurity and inharmonious communities.

As a long-term goal, we must also rethink our approach to land reform and administration.

Other countries’ experiences indicate that the subdivision of land into smaller parcels is both agriculturally and economically unproductive.

Hence, countries have reversed the process from subdivision into consolidating land parcels to increase productivity.

This could be an option to consider for Namibia’s communal areas.


* Celina Awala is a lecturer in the department of land and spatial sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. She is also a PhD fellow in spatial sciences. She writes in her personal capacity.
 

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