Sunday, January 10, 2010

Private Sector Rural Economic Development - An Example from Namibia

As part of my interest in rural development, natural resources management, and agricultural land use, I recently spent twelve days traveling to and around Namibia to research how its citizens market the rural landscape. More specifically, I was interested in the legal arrangements folks have used to help them develop agricultural operations (primarily ranches) into enterprises that encompass a variety of income streams. Below, I'll talk about Namibia and some of its history, the way in which ranchers have capitalized on the landscape and the wildlife there, and how that experience could be relevant to Nebraska's landowners.

Read the rest of this post . . . .

Namibia is a large country with a relatively small population. It is roughly twice the size of California with about two million people. It achieved independence in 1990. It was a colony of Germany until World War I, and it was ruled by South Africa until independence. Much of the land in the country is privately owned, though there are significant parts of the country that remain governmentally owned. The governmentally owned land includes national parks (Etosha, The Namib Desert and the Sossusvlei (pictured below) are examples), the diamond mining area of the southern coast, and communal areas, which are somewhat like the reservations we have in the United States. Most of the landowners in Namibia are of German descent or Afrikaaners, who are of Dutch descent.
The privately owned land is cut up into "farms," which we would call ranches in the United States. Each farm has set borders encompassing about four to five thousand acres. Many landowners own more than one farm and use it in their operation. The operations are primarily geared at livestock production and, more specifically cattle. Many of the areas don't look all that different than landscapes you could find in the midwest (picture) There is no significant feeding industry in the country because there is little rain and insufficient crop production. The cattle are raised to slaughter weight on grass and typically sold into European markets.

Insofar as wildlife are concerned, landowners in Namibia may generally kill any game occurring on their property. Trophy hunting, selling game meat, and other economic activities related to game hunting must be done with a government permit. The permits are issued by a governmental agency and are limited to the farm for which the permit is issued. In the areas where I was located (mainly in the central and southern parts of the country), the game I saw include Gemsbok (Oryx, pictured immediately below), Kudu, Springbok (both pictured below), Cheetah, Leopard, Warthog, Zebra, Ostrich and Jackal (as well as some other birds that I can't recall the name of - they don't really care much about bird hunting in Namibia). Notably, there is a robust market for game meat in Namibia. In fact, one of the ranchers I met with said that they eat no beef in their household, opting instead for the game. And I noticed a lot of game meat in the supermarket and restaurants.
Because there is economic value in the game for the ranchers, they have an incentive to manage their properties in a way that increases the presence of game and maintains species' populations. Moreover, many ranchers are engaged in activities other than hunting that benefit from the presence of a diverse array of species. Many, for instance, market their landscape and the relative solitude of open spaces by running guest lodges. Thus, managing the landscape for species' benefit, as well as cattle, yields economic returns to the ranchers.

However, the scale of an individual operation is an insufficient area in which to effectively manage game from year to year. Unless the rancher wants to invest in a huge (and relatively expensive) fence and operate a "game farm" within its borders, it makes more sense to allow the game to cross property boundaries as they always have. And with many species there is little choice to do otherwise, given the size of the animal's habitat needs. But this poses significant problems. The fact that game don't respect our boundaries eliminates many of the opportunities to profit. There is no guarantee from year to year that the game will come to the ranchers' land. And there is no guarantee that the neighbors will compensate the rancher for the benefits they reap from his management practices, let alone contribute to the species management.

Given the boundary and scale problems, many ranchers have formed what they call "conservancies". Basically, the ranchers join together in an association at a scale where game management becomes feasible and effective. These associations range in size from 250,000 acres to nearly one million acres. The landowners forming these associations write up a document outlining their goals and the activities they will undertake to achieve these goals. Most of the goals relate to game populations. Thus, the landowners, for example, may agree to conduct three game counts over the course of a year. They then meet annually to discuss how many of the existing population can be consumed for trophy hunting or other uses during the ensuing year on each ranch. The goal, of course, is to maintain the game populations at whatever level the group decides is appropriate, given the ranching activity, forage availability, likely rainfall, and species' health. Once the group agrees on these quotas, they forward their information to the agency in charge of permits. To the extent permits need to be issued (for example for meat hunts, meat sales after a culling operation, catch and sell, trophy hunts, etc.), there is an informal understanding with the government agency to issue the permits.

Interestingly, there has been an ongoing push for legislation that would formalize the permitting arrangement with the landowner associations and limit the level of government oversight. After all, the ranchers argue, there is no permitting required to raise cattle, and they do just fine in managing that species. Nonetheless, there has been some resistance to a wholesale relinquishment of game management to the private sector.

The viability of these sorts of associations in the grasslands of the midwest is something that I am considering. Many parts of Namibia resemble the grasslands of the US (see the picture below), and there is much we can learn from Namibia, and vice versa. For instance, we have never left much of anything to the private sector when it comes to wildlife management. Namibia is proof that the private sector, and more specifically, privately owned lands, can be a positive force in wildlife management, provided the incentives are there. Financial returns can also follow for landowners and others in rural areas.

Namibia's associations, however, have their problems. In general, they increase the value of individual ranchers' properties. However, there is always the possibility that individuals will withdrawal from the association, choosing instead to capitalize on the benefits of the surrounding landowners' management activities without contributing at all to the overall enterprise. Or the landowners may sell their property, leaving the choice of joining to a new owner who may ride along with the association for free. In the United States, we have the ability to create obligations that inure in the title to real estate and bind both present and future owners. We do that, for instance, with many residential housing developments (e.g. gated communities) in urban areas, which often involve associations. My work is considering how that aspect of American law can be used to avoid some of the problems that Namibian associations have encountered. Leases to an association are another option. In the end, we have an array of useful property law tools that landowners can use to create associations. And those tools can be used to helps landowners engage in the sort of cross-border enterprise that has worked fairly well in Namibia.

We also permit hunting somewhat differently than they do in Namibia. However, for reasons that would take too long to explain here, I tend to think that wholesale changes to our game laws are unnecessary. Landowners' ability to exclude hunters and others from their property and their ability to charge a fee for access make the differences in permitting somewhat irrelevant, provided enough permits are issued to effectively manage the population of the relevant species.

Finally, it should be noted that there are many different ways of doing business in this area and many more details that I have left out. There is one more aspect of these associations that is interesting. Many conservancy members in Namibia are perfectly content to raise cattle on their land without running guest farms or hunting operations. They remain part of the conservancy, however, for a couple of reasons. One is the desire to be a good steward of the game and landscape where their community exists. The most successful conservancies, after all, are comprised of landowners who see themselves as part of a larger community. Being a good neighbor is important. Additionally, and probably more importantly, even the passive member gets economic benefits from his membership. Sometimes they sell access to the property to third-party outfitters or neighbors who want to bring people onto the property for hunting or hiking or whatever. And one can structure the enterprise so that the association (owned by the landowners) pays dividends to the owners.

In the end, I think this is an interesting example of how agricultural lands can be used in ways that generate alternative revenue streams for landowners and ranch families. It has for some ranchers in Namibia, like the Pack family pictured below. If you are interested in this sort of thing, have questions, or would like to visit Namibia, give me a call or drop me an e-mail.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are organising the 9th Conference of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics (EurSafe). It will be held in Bilbao, September 16-18, 2010. The Call for Abstracts has been launched online at Documents may be submitted via a system designed by the Wageningen Academic Publishers. They are committed to publish in English, and for all of Europe, a book including all of the scientific contributions that will be delivered at the Conference itself.

Made up of professionals and researchers involved in agri-food science and technology, EurSafe takes on socio-political, economic and environmental dimensions involved in our decision-making as individuals or groups in regards to Biodiversity.

• To what extend can science and technology contribute to reaching the Millennium Development Objectives, particularly access to food for all human beings?

• How can sustainability and preservation of local development be faced in agriculture and aquaculture?

• What protections do laboratory animals deserve?

• Transgenic and organic: are they incompatible?

• Do consumers participate in the EU’s food policies? Do they receive adequate information about the foods they consume?

• Is it important for undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biosciences to train students in critical reflection on scientific and technological developments?

• What is our relationship to food? Should public authorities get involved in obesity and eating disorders or is eating in the realm of privacy?
Researchers from any discipline who wish to make an oral presentation or poster about these or other topics can find detailed information on the conference Web site, or may contact our organisation team at
Hoping to receive your scientific contributions and to greet you in person at the Conference, please receive my cordial greetings,

On behalf of the organising team:
Leire Escajedo (Conference Coordinator)

1/11/2010 10:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home