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Livelihoods in Namibia  

Rural livelihoods in Namibia heavily depend on rainfed crop production, livestock farming, as well as artisanal fisheries. Collection, use and sale of natural products, ecotourism activities, and "trophy" as well as "own use hunting" of wild animals within conservancies generate significant rural cash incomes and diversify rural livelihoods.

A Himba family tending cattle herd.
Source: © Ostby 2007
( click to enlarge )

All these livelihoods are strongly determined by post-independence land policies which have preserved the dichotomy between communal and privately owned (freehold) land. Promoting the redistribution of white-owned private farmland to black communal farmers (with mixed success so far), these policies aim to enhance the security of tenure and utilisation of communal land.

The majority of the population (about 65 %) live in communal areas covering 39 % of Namibia´s surface area. “Communal land” means that it is collectively owned and used by community members subject to rules and laws of that particular community. Only a small minority (less than 10 %) - mostly commercial farmers and farm workers - live and work on privately owned farms covering nearly half of the country’s surface area (43 %). The remaining 18 % is owned by Government, comprising mainly protected areas and areas set aside for mining activities and exploration (ERM 2009, Krugmann 2001).

Land reform legislation focusing on the redistribution of commercial farmland under the Agricultural Land Reform Act of 1995 enabled the acquisition of white-owned freehold farmland by the Government on a willing-buyer willing-seller basis and the resettlement of black communal farmers onto this land. Land reform legislation dealing with communal land (Communal Land Reform Act of 2002) has provided for the allocation of customary rights applying to subsistence land use on land parcels of up to 20 ha as well as long-term leasehold rights pertaining to commercial agriculture and other business activities on land parcels up to 50 ha (Krugmann 2001).

Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara. Rainfed Crop Cultivation and Artisanal Inland Fisheries are severely constrained by the country’s arid climate. Only the north-central and north-eastern regions enjoy sufficiently high and regular levels of rainfall for rain-fed farming to be viable. Similarly, it is only in these regions, specifically along the perennial rivers forming the country’s northern and southern borders and within the seasonal cross-border floodplains linked with these rivers that artisanal inland fisheries take place and contribute to rural livelihoods to a significant degree. On the other hand, Livestock Farming is possible and supports rural livelihoods across the country. Livestock farming takes place both in communal areas and (to diminishing degrees) on freehold farms. Mixed crop-livestock farming systems can be found in areas of sufficient rainfall (north-central and north-eastern regions).

The collection of natural products, for a variety of subsistence and commercial purposes, supplement the livelihoods of rural people in Namibia, principally in communal areas. Generally, people living in the country’s communal areas tend to rely to a large extent on cash-based market transactions in sustaining their households. Significant cash returns may be generated from local sales of live animals or fish, crop or livestock products, or various natural products. Cash incomes may be earned from (mostly informal) employment, and regular cash benefits may be received from remittances transferred by extended family members working for a salary in the mines or in urban centres or from old-age pensions paid out by the state on a monthly basis.

Namibia’s fast-expanding and by now very extensive network of protected areas, communal-area conservancies, freehold conservancies, and community forests has made nature-based tourism one of the country’s fastest-growing economic sectors in recent years. The granting in 1995 of legal rights to communal-area communities to use animal wildlife for commercial and subsistence purposes as well as participatory approaches to protected-area management have been instrumental in turning this sector into an important source of livelihood for communal-area people and communities. Please explore the Ecotourism section to learn more about this topic.




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