Angola Namibia About Tutorial Glossary Documents Images Maps Google Earth go
Please provide feedback! Click for details
Home The River Basin People and the River Governance Resource Management
People and the River



send a comment




Agriculture supports an array of important livelihoods among the population of the Kunene River basin. It is an activity of fundamental socio-economic importance, given that it is practiced by the vast majority of rural households.

Woman marketing agricultural products on a local market.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2009
( click to enlarge )


In Angola, agriculture currently generates less than 10 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nevertheless, it provides employment and contributes to food security for as many as two thirds of all economically active people in the country. Only about 20 to 30 % of all farmland is estimated currently to be in use, with those farmers that practice subsistence agriculture (the so-called “family sector”) using 90 % of the farmland (an average of 1.4 ha. per household) while only 10 % of the land serves commercially oriented agriculture. An estimated 85 % of the population depends on subsistence or near-subsistence agriculture as a livelihood base (MUA 2006).

Prior to independence (1975), the country was a major commercial agricultural producer, enjoying food self-sufficiency, and exporting large quantities of both food crops like maize, manioc and beans and cash crops like coffee, sisal and cotton. The long Angolan civil war (1975-2002), together with Namibia’s independence war (1970s and 1980s) which affected south-west Angola and the Kunene basin in particular, largely destroyed the country’s commercial agricultural base. As a result of armed conflict, the vast majority of the remaining rural people in the Kunene River basin as elsewhere in Angola, and most of the returning groups of previously displaced rural people have resorted to subsistence or near-subsistence farming to survive and eke out a living. In recent times, however, a certain proportion of the rural population is gradually returning to “cash crops”.

Transporting agricultural goods in rural Angola.
Source: AHT GROUP AG 2009
( click to enlarge )


In Namibia, the agricultural sector contributed only 5 % to GDP (as of 2004), but as many as 1.2 million people - some 60 % of Namibia’s population - live on farmland which constitutes as much as 78 % of the country’s land surface area. Of the total value of Namibia’s gross agricultural production in 2004, 76 % came from the freehold sector (privately owned commercial farms) and 24 % from communal areas (Mendelsohn et al. 2006).

Farming systems in Namibia are divided into 4 major categories (Mendelsohn et al. 2006):

  • Small-scale cereals and livestock (mahangu, sorghum, maize, goats and cattle) on small exclusive farms and open grazing in communal areas in (parts of) the north-central and north-eastern regions (8.5 % of the total farmland), for domestic consumption and supplementing incomes from non-farming activities;
  • Cattle ranching on large freehold farms and exclusive farms on communal land, for beef production (mainly for South Africa, Europe and Namibians consumers) - as well as in open grazing in the lower section of the Kunene basin (overall 49 % of the total farmland) - see section on Livestock Farming;
  • Small stock (sheep and goats) on large freehold farms and open grazing in communal areas in the southern and western regions (42 % of the total farmland), with mutton and goats for commercial sale to South African and Namibian consumers; and
  • Intensive agriculture (maize, wheat, grapes, ostriches, olives, dates, pigs, dairy products, vegetables and fruit) on small farms, mostly irrigated, throughout the country (less than 0.1 % of the total farmland), for commercial sale to export markets and Namibian consumers.

In addition, “natural resource production” systems (involving the utilisation, harvesting and domestication of wild animals and plants, game trophy hunting and tourism) are found on increasing areas of farmland, including freehold commercial farms, communal-area conservancies and commercial conservancies. These provide incomes and livelihoods that complement or exceed those derived from farming (also see section on Ecotourism).

Kunene River Basin

Crop and livestock farming patterns vary across the basin (TDA/EPSMO 2009, MUA 2006):

  • In the Upper Kunene (humid sub-tropical climate, with average annual rainfall varying between 1000 and 1500 mm), the dominant crops are maize and beans and to a lesser extent sweet potato, with livestock playing a complementary role in local farming systems, being used for animal traction and as a source of milk.

  • In the Middle Kunene (mostly semi-arid climate, with average annual rainfall in the range of 400-1000 mm) farming systems are generally based on livestock as well as crops to a greater or lesser extent, depending on relative location within the middle section, with a greater range of crops (maize, manioc, sorghum (massambala), millet (massango) and cowpea (feijão macunde)) being grown.

  • The (semi-)arid lower section of the Kunene (average annual rainfall below 400 mm) is dominated by subsistence pastoralism, supplemented by crop cultivation (mostly millet, sorghum, maize and pumpkins) on the Kunene River bank and around springs during the rainy season.

Throughout the basin, crop and/or livestock farming contributes most to household food security and is the principal source of subsistence livelihoods. However, these livelihoods are complemented by the collection of firewood, the production and sale of charcoal (especially near major urban centres), the gathering, consumption and sale of natural food and medicinal plants, the hunting of wild animals, as well as artisanal inland fisheries in rivers and lakes. Some of these activities also provide or contribute usually modest cash incomes and associated livelihoods.

Natural foods, medicines and cash incomes may become the principal sources of livelihoods for subsistence farmers during times of resource scarcity and hardship. For those too poor to farm, however, these supplementary livelihoods may be the only means of survival.




Explore the sub-basins of the Kunene River

Video Interviews about the integrated and transboundary management of the Kunene River basin

View a historical timeline of the Kunene basin countries, including water agreements & infrastructure

Video scenes about the limited access to water of the San in Kunene Province