An image of the country's flag.

Namibia is a large, arid to semi-arid country with a population of just over 2 million. The country has the world’s second-lowest population density and its natural resource endowment has enabled it to generate an average per capita income that puts it in the middle-income category, although Namibia has the highest income disparity in the world with basic health, poverty measures and unemployment worsening substantially over recent years. Articulated in 2004, Namibia’s 2030 Vision will continue ―to promote the creation of a diversified, open market economy, with a resource- based industrial sector and commercial agriculture.‖ (GRN 2004a:8) The resources in question are largely minerals (copper, uranium, zinc, gold, gemstones, and others) although fish, wildlife, and a unique landscape might also be noted as critical parts of Namibia’s resource base. Extensive production of cattle (and leather) for export is the main focus of Namibia’s commercial agriculture. Namibia’s 2010 ranking for ease of doing business is 66th of 183 economies included in the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) assessment process.

Namibia’s agricultural resources are not, however, equitably distributed among the population nor are the benefits of a successful industrial economy that is based on mineral exploitation (job creation, income generation) broadly shared. Since the country’s independence in 1990, the Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) has taken steps to address the inequality in ownership of agricultural resources, employing market mechanisms to redistribute land from a small number of large commercial white cattle-owners to a broader group of black farmers. Due to the limited success of the willing buyer/willing seller approach, the government has considered the option of expropriation in some cases. Progress toward wider, sustainable ownership by previously disadvantaged Namibians of farmland and grazing lands, and the provision of property rights to marginalized groups (e.g., women, those affected by HIV/AIDS, the San ethnic group) has been slow, however. There have been legislative and programmatic efforts to protect and improve the rights of marginalized groups, but access to Namibia’s productive agricultural lands remains highly inequitable. On the other hand, significant progress has been made in establishing wildlife tourism as a rural economic activity, with local communities exercising natural resource management rights through entities known as conservancies. Starting in 1993, USAID’s support through the Living in a Finite Environment (LIFE) project contributed to this effort. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is now implementing a four-year Conservancy Development Support Program that builds on natural resource management and governance achievements of the LIFE Project and focuses on tourism enterprise development.


As Namibia continues to pursue its Vision 2030 plan for long-term national development, it will need to take all possible measures to increase equity of opportunity for its previously disadvantaged population by ensuring access to and sustainable use of its land and renewable natural resources and by sharing the incomes associated with exploitation of non-renewable resources. Systems to secure individual property ownership combined with well-managed communal tenure systems governing land and other natural resources will provide fundamental building blocks for future advances in sound resource governance. External support could be useful in several areas.

  • Support greater access for marginalized groups. Namibia’s land-reform initiatives require prospective beneficiaries to interact with various governmental and traditional entities, such as Land Boards and Traditional Authorities. Absent affirmative efforts, Namibia’s most marginalized people, including the San, those affected by HIV/AIDs, and women are may be overlooked in land-reform programs because they lack awareness of the programs and their potential benefits, are more likely to be illiterate, and often have limited mobility. In addition, when marginalized groups obtain leaseholds and resettlement opportunities, they may require specifically targeted support to help them engage in productive livelihood activities. Donors could assist the government’s reform efforts by developing programs that target these groups and ensuring that they have equal ability to receive leaseholds and resettlement opportunities.
  • Refine and support additions to the legal framework. Namibia’s legal framework governing land rights is generally comprehensive and up-to-date. The government is currently engaged in an effort to harmonize its communal and commercial land reform acts. As revisions to the laws are considered, donors could help identify areas in the legal framework that could be strengthened or gaps addressed, such as the need for a single, uniform inheritance and succession law that recognizes equal rights of women and all races in all regions of the country and protection for the thousands of urban and peri-urban residents with insecure tenure. Programs such as the MCC’s Communal Land Support Program, which will support verification and registration of customary land rights to promote improved land tenure in the Northern Communal Areas, and review land management policies to ensure that Namibians living in communal areas can access land and have incentives to manage land sustainably, will provide experience that can inform future refinements to the existing framework. Among donors, USAID has expertise with legislation improving land law and policy, promoting security of tenure, particularly customary tenure for agriculture, pastoral and minority groups; and establishing rights to urban and peri-urban land. USAID could offer support for Namibia’s effort to provide an efficient cost-effective route to more secure land tenure for those whose rights are currently not formalized, recognized by statutory law, or where they are recognized but not protected.
  • Support decentralization. Namibia has launched several separate efforts to create institutions for decentralized control of natural resources (e.g., Communal Land Boards, water-point committees, conservancies, community forests). USAID provided substantial support and gained significant expertise through the LIFE Project that promoted community-based natural resource management, wildlife conservation, and tourism development with communal conservancies. The MCC is building on the LIFE Project to support communal conservancies to develop tourism enterprises and increase household incomes. Additionally, the MCC is working with farmers throughout the Northern Communal Areas of Namibia to develop rangeland management plans, improve the quality of rangeland resources, and increase marketing of livestock. USAID and other donors have an opportunity to apply lessons learned from the LIFE Project and the MCC’s experience to strengthen other decentralized institutions, such as Land Boards and community forest management groups


In 1990, Namibia emerged from a century of colonial rule with a strategy to correct the unequal distribution of land that had deprived indigenous Namibians of rights to land and resources. At Independence, roughly 4000 white commercial farmers owned Namibia’s 5000 commercial farms, each averaging 7200 hectares and primarily dedicated to raising livestock. The remainder of Namibia’s population of 1.5 million people (mostly black) was crowded onto Namibia’s communal land, existing on a mix of subsistence farming, livestock rearing, hunting and gathering, and remittances from abroad.

Over the years following Independence, the GRN enacted a series of well-considered laws that formed a comprehensive plan of land reform. The components included a program to finance the purchase of white-owned commercial farms by black farmers, acquisition of commercial farms through willing seller-willing buyer and land expropriation approaches, resettlement of landless households on formerly white-owned farms, and registration of communal land rights. Yet, as of 2006, fewer than 27,000 indigenous Namibians had benefited from the measures.

Low precipitation and high evaporation makes Namibia the most arid country in sub-Saharan Africa. Namibia’s land is fragile and land productivity is low. The economy is heavily dependent on mining, fishing, and cattle-ranching. Namibia produces only half the grain consumption needs of its population. Sixty-five percent of food consumed by Namibians is imported. Ninety-four percent of rural households identify agriculture as their main activity, but it makes a minimal contribution to their income. Crop farming contributes no cash income to most households in Namibia. While Namibia’s extensive mineral resources and ocean-fishing access generate significant export earnings, and average per capita income topped $4000 in 2008, almost half of Namibians live below the poverty line and 13% are extremely poor. Most of the poor live in rural areas and are dependent on access to the land, rivers, and forests for their food and fuel.

Published / Updated: October 2010