Tinkering on the fringes?: redistributive land reforms and chronic poverty in Southern Africa | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
January 2006
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In Southern Africa, landlessness due to the asset alienation that occurred during colonial occupation has been acknowledged as one of several ultimate causes of chronic poverty. Land redistribution is often seen as a powerful tool in the fight against poverty in areas where a majority of people are rural-based and make a living mostly, if not entirely, off the land. This paper examines the nature and extent of land reform in Southern Africa, with a particular focus on its contribution to poverty reduction.Clearly identifying the different types of land reform, the author examines the policy and practice in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The analysis leads to the following conclusions:despite political appetite for deracialising land ownership, there is little evidence to show a commitment to link this process to poverty reduction - in all three countries in question, policy rhetoric on land as a poverty-reducing asset often has not been supported with a serious commitment of resourcesthe quality of land provided and the terms of access both compromise the ability of beneficiaries to ensure a secure livelihood - in this sense, the current conceptualisation of land reform does little to reduce povertyin all three countries there has been policy capture of land reform initiatives by members of the political and bureaucratic elite at the expense of the poorall three countries demonstrate a reluctance to meaningfully reform customary forms of tenure - there is, however, growing evidence of commoditisation of land under such customary tenure that may not always work for poor householdsthere is a significant lack of good quality data at the country level for the systematic monitoring of the impact of land reform - monitoring and evaluation systems seem to emerge as afterthoughts.The author concludes that, although some people have clearly benefitted greatly from land reform policies, there is no clear link between these policies and poverty reduction.

Authors and Publishers

Author(s), editor(s), contributor(s): 

A.O. Chimhowu


The CPRC is an international partnership of universities, research institutes and NGOs established that provides research and policy guidance on the reduction of chronic poverty. 

Nearly half a billion people are trapped in chronic poverty – poverty they experience over many years, often over their entire lives, and commonly pass poverty on to their children.

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