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Livelihoods after Land Reform

Study objectives  |  Project beneficiaries  |  Read outputs from Namibia  South Africa  Zimbabwe


About the project

In southern Africa many agree that land reform is an essential component of efforts to reduce poverty and inequality, but this study was the first systematic assessment of the poverty reduction and livelihood impacts of land reform in the region. This project filled a data gap, and developed appropriate and replicable methodologies for such an assessment.

PLAAS and the Institute of Development Studies in the UK, the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia and partners in Zimbabwe, investigated the livelihood impacts of land reform in the Southern African region. Funds were provided over three years by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).

Through case studies in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, the project explored to what extent land redistribution in southern Africa is achieving poverty reduction and livelihood improvement objectives. Specific objectives were to:

  1. Provide empirical data, in a systematic and comparable form, on livelihoods impacts and agrarian structure in post-land reform settings.
  2. Understand what conditions – including appropriate land transfer mechanisms, resettlement models, tenure arrangements and post-settlement support – are likely to result in poverty reduction following redistribution of land.
  3. Advance conceptual thinking about post-transfer livelihood options, interrogating what is meant by ‘viable’ land reform in the southern African context
  4. Develop replicable methodological approaches for assessing impacts at different scales – e.g. household, scheme/project, regional economy – for use as assessment and monitoring and evaluation tools.

In addition, the project aimed to engage a range of end-users in government and other implementing agencies (NGOs, service providers, donors), as well as beneficiaries, in exploring the policy implications of research findings.

A pivotal issue at the centre of the land reform debate is the issue of the ‘viability’ of new land-based livelihoods. Are new settlers capable of using the land in a productive manner? Are they likely to achieve food security in the short term?  Will the scheme be sustainable in the longer term? However, a deeper and conceptually well-informed examination of what is meant by ‘viability’ is often absent: viability for whom? Over what scale/time period? In relation to what criteria? Interrogating the notion of viability and exploring methodologies for livelihood impact assessment goes to the core of the land reform debate in the region, exposing deeply contested notions of what constitute appropriate resettlement models, production types and routes to sustainability.

Research focussed on the livelihood impacts in South Africa (Limpopo Province), Zimbabwe (Masvingo Province) and Namibia (Kunene, Otjozondjupa, Oshikoto and Omaheke regions). Sites were chosen because they were the focus for on-going land redistribution efforts, are broadly comparable in terms of agro-ecology, existing support infrastructure and livelihood profiles and are areas where the applicants have extensive field contacts. Field sites represent a range of different land redistribution settings, such as low-input, dryland agriculture and livestock production; joint venture arrangements for high-value irrigated crops such as horticulture and sugar; and wildlife or tourism-based enterprises.

Within each site, data was collected through qualitative and quantitative methods at both individual household and scheme level. These household and scheme level data will be complemented by a district or provincial/regional level assessment of the wider economic and social impacts of land reform. The methodological approach was cross-disciplinary drawing on inter alia dynamic livelihood pathway assessments; agricultural/farm economics; social network analysis; social dynamics and gender analysis and environmental impact appraisal. Data collection techniques were diverse, ranging from household surveys to participatory appraisal, ethnographic observation and crop/farm modelling.

The project unfolded over three phases: a) establishment of a research and engagement strategy (6m); b) main field research period (24m); c) dissemination and policy networking (6m).

Engagement objectives include developing a replicable methodology for livelihood impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation; providing inputs into the design of support programmes in post-land reform settings; facilitating exchanges between researchers, government officials, service providers and land reform beneficiaries; and feeding research findings into policy discussions on land reform in southern Africa.


Study objectives  |  Project beneficiaries  |  Read outputs from Namibia  South Africa  Zimbabwe