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SACAU: Land in Southern Africa - Key issues for farmers and policy options

Land issues in Southern African countries are diverse owing to a number of factors. The paper seeks to provide an overview of the various social, economic, political and environmental dimensions of contemporary land issues.

Key amongst these is the tension between land as a resource that supports large numbers of poor rural households, versus land as a resource for commercial agricultural development. The complexities around land often increase as a country’s economy diversifies, first because economic sectors other than agriculture start exerting a demand for land, and also because the nature of farming itself tends to change. Meanwhile, the political dimensions of land policies are to some extent rooted in a country’s history, but new politically-charged land issues also arise, not least the phenomenon of foreign large-scale land acquisition whereby foreign governments or foreign-based companies seek to access large amounts of agricultural land in a country.

Ultimately land remains a resource in Southern Africa of unique importance because agriculture features as such a significant sector. Even where the agricultural sector does not contribute greatly to gross domestic product (GDP), it often absorbs a large share of the workforce, and/or supports the nation’s food needs, and/or contributes significantly to the trade balance.

SACAU commissioned a discussion paper on land to identify and analyse the key land issues that impact agricultural enterprise. The paper concludes with brief policy recommendations in five areas: the land policy and the agricultural development path; land redistribution; tenure reform; land administration; and land policies that create a conducive environment for land reform. The paper is based on secondary sources (i.e. published books and articles and unpublished reports), supplemented by responses to a brief questionnaire circulated among SACAU’s member organisations, as well as the feedback received and discussions held in the course of the policy conference that SACAU organised on 29-30 March 2010.

Author: Michael Aliber and Karin Kleinbooi, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), University of the Western Cape
Document type: Thematic Papers
Thematic Areas: Markets and Value chains, Natural resources, Policy Dialogue
Region: South Africa
Year of Publication: 2010