We have only been here in Namibia for a week, and I have already learned so much about the country, especially about what landownership entails. A study by Devan McGranahan on Namibian commercial rangelands, divides land into three categories: private commercial land, owned most predominantly by white Namibians; communal land, inhabited by respective ethnic groups; and national parks owned by the state. Since being here, I have had my eyes opened to what private land ownership involves in this country, which is infinitely more complex than what I imagined.
Predominantly, we have seen two distinct types of private landownership: large commercial farms and small production enterprises. Each type in Namibia has significant similarities and differences to those in the United States. Our visit to Patria Farm, a 10,000ha (24,000 acre) property in Stampriet, highlighted both aspects of that idea. The land was owned and managed by Jimmy O’Kennedy and his staff. Like in the U.S., his heritage dictated a lot of how he ran his farm, which had been in his family for more than 100 years. A traditional practice O’Kennedy implemented was using a local staff to manually work in his fields. In America, the same work would be done using machinery. That was probably the most blatant example of a cultural and heritage-driven difference between Namibia and U.S. use of private lands. Despite the two different techniques, the countries are still similar in that teamwork and communication are important to the success of commercial business.
Another aspect of private landownership I learned is that land in Namibia cannot, and should not, solely support agricultural businesses such as livestock or feed crops, but must have varied uses to be successful. Problem solving to find that balance is an urgent struggle for Namibia. According to Cecil Togarepi, an Agricultural Economics Lecturer at the University of Namibia- Neudamm (UNAM), 70% of the nation’s working population earns their income from agricultural pursuits, 80% of which comes from cattle farming. Yet, income generated is only 5% of the national GDP. So commercial landowners must diversify their industries to support their livelihoods and change the economic landscape of the country.
Namibians vary the use of their private land through small commercial businesses. Erno Bertolini, a private landowner, started a small gas station, bakery, and butchery shop in Rehoboth; essentially the “Buccees of Namibia.” His company is successful because it is different. Instead of using his land for a farm, he made his livelihood by doing something new. We were privileged to tour his store and participate in making sausage and bread.
I learned a lot about Bertolini’s culture and heritage through visiting his private business. As per his heritage, Bertolini still uses fresh smoke in his sausages, and stuffs his products in authentic animal casings. Like O’Kennedy, Bertolini holds true to his traditional practices, even thought it may mean that his work takes more time or is more difficult. Contrarily, in the U.S., businesses stress efficiency and often use modern technologies to facilitate greater production. A comparable example would be U.S. meat shops using liquid smoke in their products, where Bertolini uses only natural smoke. This difference in pace and production in the Namibian store was interesting to see.
Getting first-hand perspective of Namibian landownership and the respective types of commercial businesses made me more aware of the country’s economic dynamic and value of property ownership. I learned so much about individualism, and private ownership through visiting just two establishments in Namibia. I cannot wait to learn more as we continue on this journey.