Townland on border of communal area

Credit: Elke Matthaei. Townland on border of communal area 

Although slowed by the global economic crisis in 2008, which dampened demand for its exports of diamond and gold, Namibia’s economy has grown steadily since independence in 1990.  The country’s economy is closely tied to that of South Africa, and similarly dependant on extractives. And, like South Africa, Namibian society is marred by extreme income inequality. About 40 percent of Namibian households depend on subsistence farming or other forms of non-formal employment as their primary source of income.

Shortly after independence, the new Namibian government initiated a comprehensive land reform process to address the inequitable access to and ownership of land. This inequality stemmed from more than a century of German colonization and subsequent occupation by apartheid South Africa.  At independence, nearly all commercial land in Namibia was owned by the white minority, which constituted less than 0.5 percent of the population, while 70 percent of the population lived on what is now classified as communal land.

The government held a high-level conference on land issues in 1991, and mandated the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement to implement the land reform process and to “manage, administer and ensure equitable access to Namibia’s land resources.” 

The National Land Policy (NLP) of 1998 further lays the foundation for land ownership and reform. It is based on “a unitary land system, which provides for equal rights and opportunities across a range of tenure systems” on both communal and commercial agricultural land. The NLP established basic principles for the governance of all land in Namibia, with a strong emphasis on protecting the rights of the poor and women and promoting transparency and accountability in land administration. 

Namibia is also one of the only countries in the world to include habitat conservation in its Constitution (Art. 95); the 1975 Nature Conservation Ordinance and its 1996 Amendment allow for the creation of nature conservancies on commercial or communal land and grants the owner, which can be a community, the right to profit from wildlife and tourism activities in the area.



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Land Reform Today

Currently land reform is focused on the redistribution of commercial farmland to previously disadvantaged Namibians; the registration of land rights on communal land; and the provision of land titles in urban areas.  
Land redistribution: The land reform process addresses commercial, communal and urban land in Namibia. The government aims to redistribute at least 15 million hectares of commercial farmland from white farmers to previously disadvantaged black farmers by 2020. 
Under the National Resettlement Programme, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement buys farms in accordance with the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle and divides them into smaller parcels onto which it settles landless Namibians. 
Through the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme, the state-owned Agribank provides subsidised loans for the purchase of farms by disadvantaged Namibians. By 2014, an estimated 8 million hectares of commercial farmland had been distributed to landless and disadvantaged persons in a peaceful and constitutional manner. 

Communal land registration

Communal land in Namibia is State owned, but administered by traditional chiefs. Under Namibia’s Communal Land Reform Act (Act No. 5 of 2002) (CLRA), communal land reform mainly focuses on the registration of land use rights in Namibia's communal areas, which involves demarcating and titling parcels of non-freehold (land that is neither commercial nor privately owned).  These rights can be registered by families or individuals, both women and men.  The programme intends to foster security of tenure, including for women and marginalised groups. 
Across Namibia’s communal areas, which constitute 36 percent of its land, the CLRA aims to reduce land grabbing, specifically by the local elite, and conflicts over land use. It seeks to sustainably allocate, develop and manage natural resources. Communal land reform aims to encourage investment in land by subsistence farmers and those aiming to start small businesses, thus increasing agricultural productivity and ultimately reducing poverty through improved income and access to credit.
The Ministry of Lands and Resettlement is responsible for overall land use planning, policy development, maintenance of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), and the establishment of fundamental datasets concerning land.

Urban land

The country is experiencing rapid urbanization and an increase in informal settlements where land rights are not protected. Parallel to the registration of communal land rights and the distribution of land through the national resettlement program, the Government has introduced a concept of land registration in urban areas called the Flexible Land Tenure System (FLTS). The FLTS allows the urban poor secure and affordable access to land. Given the importance of a comprehensive and unified national land reform agenda, the FLTS complements the efforts already undertaken by the Government of Namibia.
Namibia’s land reform is ongoing.  The Namibian government has partnered with a number of bilateral and multilateral donors to support the design and implementation of the country’s land reform strategy, most notably German Development Cooperation (GIZ and KfW), SIDA, MCA/MCC and the European Union, who have assisted the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement over the past decade. 

Namibia infographic

Total population 2,303,315
Rural population / rural poverty rate 1,274,217/37.4%
Share of women in agriculture 26.6%
Urban population / urban poverty rate 1,029,098/14.6%
Internally displaced People N/A
Total land area / Agricultural land as % of total 823,290/47.1%
Protected areas (as % of total land) 43.2%
Forested land (as % of total) 8.7%
Annual deforestation rate 0.84%
Land rights and access rating 0.571
Time required to register property (days) 52
Women's ownership rights 0.5
Large-scale land holdings N/A
GDP per capita (current USD) 5461.5
Agriculture as % of GDP 7.1%
Natural resource income as % of GDP N/A
Major natural resources diamonds, copper, uranium, gold, silver, lead, tin, lithium, cadmium, tungsten, zinc, salt, hydropower, fish
Tourism as share of GDP 3%