Namibian farmers and land managers operate in an arid and highly variable climate. The land surface is classified as 22% being hyper-arid/desert, 33% as arid, 37% as semi-arid and 8% as dry sub-humid. In addition, temperatures and evapo-transpiration rates are very high and rainfall varies greatly from year to year and within growing seasons. Human endeavour must adapt to this reality. Drought, which refers to time of exceptionally low total rainfall or poor distribution of rainfall within a growing season over several years, is also something to be expected and managed by individuals and communities. The biophysical, social and economic realities of land management in Namibia are challenging. Freehold and communal farmers encounter differences in land rights, economic power, and access to information and resources.
With its arid environment, Namibia’s climate is very variable and farming systems are greatly influenced by this variability. Most crop farming takes place in the northern regions where rainfall is highest; large stock predominates in the central and north and small stock in the drier, southern part. Superimposed on the biophysical environment are remnants of Namibia’s political history. Farming systems range from communal livestock management in unfenced rangelands to large, commercially run fenced areas and a myriad of variants in between. These systems are frequently managed by part-time farmers with full-time jobs elsewhere, although some dedicated, full-time farmers remain. Three different farmers unions reflect the variation of farming systems.
Land reform, meaning reform of agricultural land ownership, is a key issue influencing farming and particularly decision making. With the great variability of rainfall, smaller farms, increasing in number with land reform, are often of inadequate size to allow reserved grazing areas as insurance for dry periods. What policies, governance, institutions, extension, mentoring, technical, economic and framework support are required in the varied farming systems of an arid, variable environment?