In rural Africa as in many societies, agriculture is at the heart of every activity throughout the day. Communities are structured around cultivating fields, tending livestock, preparing food, fetching water, and gathering firewood. These activities differ widely between communities depending on level development and certainly differ between developing and developed countries. However, many similarities can be observed, especially when comparing farming communities to farming communities. Similar values and daily concerns can be seen, although customs and technology used are quite different. A farmer in Africa and a farmer in Texas might both be concerned with how to irrigate their crops during a drought, where to source feed for their cattle, and how to provide an education for their children.
This comparison has implications for how natural resources are conserved and managed. Both communities might feel the need to safeguard resources for future use; however, community or family survival would certainly come first. A community in Africa might be less worried about soil degradation if the standard practice is to move cattle or crops after each season. Because of such practices and lack of land tenure, securing access to land and water sometimes becomes a contentious issue, even a violent one.
Namibia (like several in Africa) is interesting in that there are many levels of development. In the north you have completely undeveloped “traditional” tribal communities. This is not only reflected in economics (no monetary system) but also in cultural beliefs, education, and infrastructure. Agriculture is used for subsistence and a store of wealth, not as a livelihood. You have some emerging farmers that might have access to land and access to education and technology – but lack capital and market linkages to fully make the transition from subsistence to commercial farming. In Namibia, there are institutional barriers to agricultural trade. The most tangible (and real) barrier is the veterinary control line that prevents any livestock products from the north of the country from entering into markets. This eliminates any agricultural based rural economy in the north.
In the south, land is controlled by a relatively minority of people and the major agriculture industry is beef cattle. Beef is a primary export of Namibia after extractive mining. In the south, these landholders and the agriculture industry is quite sophisticated. Have such advanced industry is good in that it creates jobs and promotes income for the country as a whole but the internal barriers, differential access to land, and lack of rural education all contribute to high income disparities within the country.
The cultural systems in Namibia are equally divided. Like South Africa, the white population of Namibia is dominated by German, Afrikaner, and British heritage. While German influence has lessened, Namibia’s close political and economic linkages with South Africa are apparent everywhere. Stores, banks, cars, and individuals are all similar. For the black populations in South Africa, there is increasing professional and skilled opportunities for a few. Those who have work and have education are able to find jobs in various agriculture, tourism, service, and mining industry. The remainder of the black population is based in tribal-based communal settlements north of the veterinary control line with very little opportunity for advancement.
In the United States, we still have a few issues of inequality in the rural sector mostly around issues of employment in Native American reservations and immigrant communities. But the United States has taken great strides in providing economic development for the rural disadvantaged communities, integrating through education, professional development, and infrastructure connectivity.
In summary one of the largest detriments to the social and economic advancement of Namibia is the veterinary control line. It seems almost to be a line of political convenience in that it keeps control on both the livestock population and the rural population. There should be concrete efforts to move that line gradually north providing more opportunities to the rural sector and integrating the agriculture economy of the country.