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Uses, rights & management

Namibia's size – approximately 824,000 square kilometres – and small population of 2.6 million people means that there is more land per person than in most countries in the world.1 How this land can be used defines its value to Namibians. The country is characterised by high evaporation rates and low rainfall, most soils are impoverished or shallow, and vegetation often has limited forage value (Chapters 3, 5 and 6). Land with similar attributes in many areas of the world would be left unused, but in Namibia this is agricultural land used to keep and produce livestock and to grow food for domestic consumption. Juxtaposed to this relatively poor farmland are resources that could be of greater value. Foremost are resources provided by enterprises in urban areas, while valuable rural resources include those used for tourism, wildlife production, mining, commercial horticulture and the commercialisation of indigenous plant products.

Modern Namibia has two quite different tenure systems: one that impedes private ownership and another that protects it. The balance between the two systems is shifting towards private ownership, but most Namibians continue to be barred from owning their land, which limits the uses of land and thus its value. This is true in communal areas and in the burgeoning informal settlements in towns and cities. It is to the urban concentrations of energy that most Namibians migrate because the supply of goods, money, information and services is more rewarding than in rural areas. More than half of all Namibians now live in urban areas as a result.2

A major challenge facing Namibia is to transform its tenure systems so that they encourage, not limit, effective and sustainable land uses in both rural and urban areas. Such a transformation would affect most of Namibia's land and people.

Photo: In Namibia, access to land and the resources it offers is controlled through a mix of traditional and modern tenure and systems. Traditional tenure in communal areas is either held privately by individual families or communally for everyone within a certain area. Here, a fence separates private land from the commons. Vegetation is managed on the private farmland; its occupants have secure rights over this land and incentives to invest in the property and protect its resources. By contrast, resources in the commons are available to all on a 'first come' basis. Unless these open areas are managed, early users exhaust resources before other people have a chance to use them, a situation frequently referred to as the tragedy of the commons. Compounding the tragedy, influential people have appropriated and fenced areas of the commons into large farms for their own use, thus leaving less land available in the commons to those without their own farms or abundant resources. This process continues the shift from communal to private land that has taken place throughout Namibia since the 1890s.