Second national land conference: Some issues and challenges (Part II)

Escalating cost of agricultural land: The valuation method used by the valuers in the ministry is market based. Unfortunately, this market is distorted mostly, as one can infer, by the dominant role of the State in the market. The preferential right enjoyed by government means that the sales data used by the valuers are mostly those resulting from State purchases. Once a government buys a farm in certain vicinity, other adjacent farmers would already insist on getting similar prices.

The government may therefore consider a moratorium of two to three years on the preferential rights. There is no danger of foreigners taking advantage of this since the law already prohibits sale of agricultural land to foreigners without the consent of the Minister of Land Reform. If there is any existing loopholes that may be exploited, this could be plugged before this moratorium.

Lessons can be learnt from what is happening with properties in the affluent suburbs of Windhoek. In spite of the fact that foreigners are not prohibited from buying properties, the costs of properties in these areas have gone down. This de-escalation of cost could even be more in the agricultural sector where the locals are not competing with foreigners with large financial muscle.

During this interregnum, government could divert existing funds to providing infrastructure on existing resettlement units and also on the expanded communal land where the poor who could not benefit from resettlement can be accommodated.

In addition to the suggested, moratorium, the government could also intervene in the market in a transparent manner. Legislation could be introduced to factor in agricultural potentials, actual use of land and income, sworn valuation by the owner and the assessment made by government valuers.

To make these changes, there will be urgent need to produce reliable Agro-Ecological Zone maps and carrying capacity maps that can be used to justify the values of agricultural land using these additional indices. The government valuers cannot defend successfully in court their values without these maps. Again, the savings made during this pause in land purchase could be used to produce these maps. It is advisable that the value of land should not be left to the so-called market forces. Even these market forces are not free from intervention by vested interests.

Selection Criteria of NRP Beneficiaries: The preamble of the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act, 1995 (Act No. 6 of 1995) identifies the beneficiaries of the land reform programme as Namibian citizens who do not own or otherwise have the use of agricultural land or adequate agricultural land, and foremost to those Namibians who have been socially, economically or educationally disadvantaged by the past discriminatory laws and practices.

Considering the above preamble, it becomes clear that the work of the Ministry of Land Reform is well cut for them, as almost all adult Namibians are candidates for resettlement. The potential beneficiaries include those one can refer to as the poorest of the poor. It is important to seriously debate whether this category of beneficiaries cannot be served through other means other than resettlement.

This brings us to the recent reactions that followed the statement of the Ministry of Land Reform to the effect that resettlement farms will target middle income Namibians who could afford to farm productively. To put this view in context, we need to acquaint ourselves on the escalating cost of resettling one household on a farm unit. In the 2013/2014 annual report of the Ministry of Land Reform, the average cost per ha is N$1402, while the cost for resettlement per household is N$1 945 201. Taking this into consideration, it is only prudent that the capacity to manage a public asset worth almost N$2 million, profitably and sustainably by the potential beneficiary need to be ascertained. It is also important to note that this view of not using access to redistributive land as a strategy for poverty reduction is supported by national policy documents.

At the holistic level, access to land is not sufficiently recognised as a primary factor for poverty reduction. The Poverty Reduction Strategy for Namibia published by the National Planning Commission, NPC in 1998, argued that land reform could contribute to a one-time gain for poverty but did not accord resettlement a strategic role in poverty reduction. Subsequent National Development Plans have maintained this approach where improved access to land through land reform does not feature as a strategy. In NDP 5, redistributive land does not even feature under agricultural sector and food security strategy. Land reform only appears as a strategy under rural economic development. Even at that, it only refers to tenure reform to incentivise property holders to invest in their properties and use their properties as collaterals. The reservation about using resettlement programme to address poverty is therefore, not a recent development.

Twenty-seven years into the resettlement programme, a re-evaluation of the targeted beneficiaries needs to be performed in light of the prevailing national strategies and lessons learnt. Under the National Resettlement Programme, 3.4 million hectares of the targeted 5 million hectares of commercial agricultural land has so far been acquired. Using a mean of 1500 as per the guidelines of 1000 ha in central and 3000 in south given by the Land Reform Advisory Commission, the remaining 1.6 million ha can only cater for less than one thousand one hundred beneficiaries. Under this condition, the bar for selection of beneficiaries needs to be raised significantly. The NDP5 report indicated that the contribution to GDP by the agricultural sector contracted by 2.2 percent per year throughout the duration of the NDP 4. To change this trend, the NRP needs to contribute by limiting the remaining land redistribution to the less than 1100 who have the capacity to manage the units in such a manner that productivity could be enhanced. As indicated earlier, the cost of resettlement is escalating, so more prudence is required.

Source: New Era Newspaper Namibia