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Namibian land reforms gain attention in southern Africa


Windhoek (Namibia) : Namibia's land reform process, despite some glitches, for speedy and efficient redistribution of land looks set to becoming exemplary in terms of cooperation and support from within the farming community.

South Africa's Female Emerging Farmer of the Year 2006, Olga Nghatsane, says her country can learn from Namibia when it comes to communication and support as black farmers enter the fold of previously mainly white-owned commercial agriculture.

"They're so open to each other, they help each other and I wish that could take place in South Africa as well," Nghatsane said, adding that there was an inherent fear of the other, which still needed to be overcome in South Africa.

Nghatsane, who owns a poultry farm in Mpumalanga province, was a guest at a Farmers' Day on the farm of Namibia's Emerging Farmer of the Year 2006, Clara Bohitile.

She praised the Nina Farmers' Association for the support in bringing new farmers up to scratch in terms of productivity. At the same time, she urged Namibia to follow in the footsteps of South Africa regarding government support for emerging black farmers.

In South Africa, people can lease a piece of land for 12 months with the aim to buy and in that period they're assessed as to their commitment and capabilities towards commercial agriculture.

"I think if emerging farmers are resettled there's a need for government to support them, but people also need to prove they have a passion for farming," Nghatasane said.

In Namibia, 1,635 families have been resettled on commercial land. But land alone does not satisfy emotions and it does not feed hungry mouths in the absence of skills and know-how regarding the utilisation of agricultural resource.

"What is much more important though is that emerging farmers get the right support to ensure agriculture remains one of the mainstays of the economy," says Vehaka Tjimune, executive director of the Namibia National Farmers' Union (NNFU) founded in 1992 and representing communal farmers and new commercial farmers.

This support, which to date from government's side has been mainly one of lip service, is provided by the Emerging Farmers' Support Programme initiated by the NNFU and its counterpart the NAU and supported by various private sector organisations.

"We have a sector that's struggling and a sector that has a vast knowledge of agricultural and management skills. By bringing them together we find a basis for skills and knowledge exchange and mentorship, which can only benefit those newly resettled and those turning from subsistence to commercial agriculture," Tjimune says.

Clara Bohitile, a former deputy minister, who has just been recalled into the day-to-day affairs of government as an MP for the ruling party SWAPO, is strongly critical of the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement. She says it is clearly not fulfilling its obligations.

Pointing across the fence to the resettlement farm next door, she says: "It's difficult for them to be productive because they do not have the means and there is no assistance on the side of government and that assistance is needed like never (before)."

Bohitile believes when resettlement farmers come onto a piece of land granted to them by government, they must be productive.

Raimar von Hase, president of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), agrees. "We cannot afford to compromise on productivity if we want to ensure people overcome poverty," he says.

At the same time he insists that land reform is necessary and that the approach taken in Namibia has served the country well.

"Namibia is not Zimbabwe and things are being handled very differently here," von Hase says. "But the fact is also that people owning large tracts of land will have to be prepared to part with some of it in the interest of long-term peace and stability."

In early 1994 then prime minister Theo-Ben Gurirab announced plans to expropriate farms against just compensation as a necessary measure to speed up land reform and stave off civil unrest.

The previous method of acquiring arable land from a willing seller was deemed too cumbersome a process given the need to resettle some 240,000 previously disadvantaged Namibians.

Initial worries that the 2,000 white commercial farmers in Namibia faced land invasions and violent expulsions of the kind that had rocked neighbouring Zimbabwe, were quickly dispelled however.

So far, the government has in fact acquired only five farms by way of forced sales. A number of others held to be foreign landlords are now contesting the loss of their farms in the Namibian High Court.

But a certain unease remains on both sides. Farmers worry that the lack of clear-cut guidelines regarding the process of land acquisition could be an indication of ulterior political motives and government's unwillingness to deal with land reform fairly.

Government officials and politicians feel they're not being dealt with openly, saying farmers still try to inflate land prices and seek loopholes to maintain the landlord status which colonialism and apartheid had afforded them.

The government has acquired 209 commercial farms since 1990, 54 in the past year alone, an indication that Namibia is speeding up its efforts in achieving equitable land distribution.

Forty-three percent of Namibia's land is used for commercial farming, 42 percent is communal or tribal land and the remaining 15 percent is for nature reserves and national parks.