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Land reform and its impact on livelihoods:
Evidence from eight land reform groups in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa

Alastair Bradstock


September 2005

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Executive summary

When the new South African Government came to power in 1994, it embarked upon an ambitious land reform programme.One of the key objectives was to provide poor people with an additional asset that they could use to develop strategies to escape from poverty. The programme has begun to change the land ownership pattern in the country, albeit at a very slow pace, but there is little evidence to show how land reform beneficiaries are using their land and whether it is making a significant impact on poverty reduction.

FARM-Africa, a British based NGO, has been working in the land sector in the Northern Cape since 1995, when it provided a range of support to the Riemvasmaak community in their efforts to develop their farm. In 1999, FARM-Africa launched a new project in the Northern Cape with the aim of developing the technical agricultural and managerial skills of land reform groups so that they have the ability to develop their farms.

This report is based on a study which formed part of that project. It examines the assets, activities and income sources of a random sample of 118 households chosen from eight land reform groups, looking at changes between 2001 and 2003.These groups had all received land from the redistribution and restitution components of the government’s land reform programme, but they had not yet been significantly affected by the support offered by FARM-Africa.

The findings showed that the majority of households in the sample had limited asset holdings, and were involved in a narrow range of activities. In general the poorer households were highly dependent upon public transfers, in particular old age pensions and disability allowances. The rich, who had larger asset holdings, avoided poverty by successfully accessing the labour market.While most households had increased their livestock holdings, there was little evidence to demonstrate that they were making agriculture a more significant part of their livelihoods. Moreover income derived from their land was a small proportion of total household income.

Considering the low levels of technical agricultural and managerial support available from the government, the dry climatic conditions in the Northern Cape and the competitive nature of South Africa’s agricultural market, the decision by households to treat agriculture as only a minor component of their livelihood strategy is a rational one. In such circumstances the land reform programme will be unable to make a significant impact on poverty reduction, and consequently there is a need for organisations like FARM-Africa with practical experience of the land reform programme to advocate for change.

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