Thursday, December 06, 2007

End Rural Poverty by Privatising Communal Land

from All Africa

New Era (Windhoek)

By Wezi Tjaronda

A consultant has recommended that communal land should have an economic value attached to it in order to improve the living standards of people living in communal areas.

He considered the low value and insecure tenure of communal land at present as a missed opportunity for rural areas to develop.

There should be a focus on the value of land and its ownership, Dr John Mendelsohn of Research and Information Services of Namibia (RAISON) said in a presentation to the Annual General Meeting of the Namibia Professional Hunters Association last week.

Mendelsohn said there is an assumption that people in rural areas are just fine the way they are, yet communal areas have poor land tenure security and land has no value as collateral value while being vulnerable to land grabs by the po-werful and wealthy.

In addition, Mendelsohn said people are unable to develop and own land as a capital asset. They have little incentive to invest in, or care for, land because it has no commercial value.

Although most people in rural areas depend on livestock and small-scale farming, deriving a livelihood from these is not viable because of high population densities, low rainfall, poor soil and labour constraints.

Even if they have surpluses to sell, farmers face limited markets because of the size of the population and long distances to bigger markets.

More than 60 percent of the country's population, or 1.3 million people live in rural areas.

He felt that there were double standards applied between urban and communal land dwellers because of the lack of commercial value attached to communal land.

"Communal land is a poverty trap," he said, adding that people should own the land to be able to earn an income from it, and develop and value the land as a capital asset.

He suggested that communal land should be divided and given to people to sell if they want to leave the rural areas. In addition, people could use the land as collateral for loans they may want from financial institutions.

He said if people owned the land they would also look after it properly.

At present, people in rural areas are denied access to economic development options that urban areas take for granted, by for instance, making improvements to their homes as a capital asset, he said.

Urban populations are growing due to people migrating in search of better living standards, which Mendelsohn said should be encouraged in the absence of good options available to inhabitants of rural areas.

Statistics quoted in the presentation indicate that urban areas are growing at five percent per year compared to two percent for rural areas.

Life in most rural areas is hard, especially if it depends on traditional farming and limited harvests. Livelihoods dependent on agriculture generally require big areas if they are to generate decent incomes and standards of living.

For a decent life, he added, other sources of income are needed, especially as a source of cash for modern necessities.

He suggested that the Government should focus on policies and ways of developing agricultural and other natural resources that really yield incomes - that add value to natural resources and tourism.

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