|The Courier N° 147 - Sept-Oct 1994 - Dossier Public Health - Country report Swaziland (European Commission - The ACP Courier, 1994)|
Albert Silekeha Dlamini lives in Sigangeni, a community of about 120 homesteads, some 12 km from Manzini. What distinguishes him in his community is not just his nine children and comparative wealth (owner of a tractor, two pick up vans, two grocery shops serving the group of homesteads, barns full of maize and pumpkins, a child in the University and several others in the secondary school), but his expansiveness and openness to modernity. He is an unusual small-holder seriously constrained by the policy of the Swazi Nation Land (SNL), the linchpin of Swaziland's traditional economy.
In 1974, at the age of 28, newly married Dlamini was given a plot of about three hectares to cultivate by the Chief of the community. He had spent a great part of his youth working in his father's shop, and was ready to lead an independent life. He bought himself a tractor with the money he had saved, and soon realised he could use it as a bargaining chip with his neighbours to extend the acreage of his farm: he would plough their farms in return for a piece of their land and, sometimes, for a little bit of his own harvest. Twenty-five years later, Mr Dlamini has quadrupled the acreage of his farm through this ingenious arrangement with his neighbours and he is a very prosperous man.
Although his farm is rainfed, he usually has a good harvest every year except, of course, when drought occurs. His barns are stacked with maize destined for sale to the National Maize Commission (NMC) and, twice a week, he takes some of his produce in one of his pick-up vans and, accompanied by his wife, goes to the nearby market to sell them for additional income. He employs labourers only at harvest time (three at the most, paying each E8 per day). The ploughing and sowing are done by himself and his family. He tries as best he can to lead a comfortable life in his rural homestead. His family's source of drinking water is a brook, one kilometre away from the homestead, and thanks to his vans, water is brought home daily in jerry cans. He has a television set which is battery-operated and, since the installation of an electricity transmission cable, which runs about a hundred metres away from his homestead, his house is wired up in anticipation of power supply.
With an annual profit which, he says, is around E 85 000, Mr Dlamini is better off by far than most of the senior civil servants in Mbabane, so much better off in fact that he says that he is not bothered too much by the fact that there are no credit facilities in the rural areas. He thinks he already has enough money for the small-scale of investment within his management capability.
His biggest problem is lack of land to expand his activities. Hewouid like to be resettled in one of the government's newly-purchased farms. Asked if, in pursuit of the objective of access to more land, he was prepared to be resettled in a village, Mr Dlamini said he had no objection to living next door to his fellow Swazi as long as that meant access to more land, water, electricity, etc.
Mr Dlamini is the antithesis of the classic Swazi smallholder whose commitment to the privacy of the homestead lifestyle is legendary. For centuries the people of this tiny Kingdom have lived isolated from one another in scattered homesteads in the countryside, yet in perfect security. There are no villages and no plans either to 'villagise' as ujaama in Tanzania. Steeped in customs and tradition, they are each allocated by the Chief no more than 3/4 hectares to farm for subsistence. They have no right to dispose of their land. Indeed it could in principle be withdrawn. In modem times, a Swazi homestead dweller will only sell his produce (more often to his neighbours) when financial requirements dictate or when he has surpluses.
Mr Dlamini's situation goes to the heart of the current debate on the future of the Swazi Nation Land - how it can be brought into the modem age and maximise its contribution to the country's economy at this juncture in its history.
A sad history
The story of the Swazi Nation Land is a sad one. In the early 1800s when Swaziland became a British protectorate and a more coherent nation, its borders extended far beyond its present on", well into the KaNgwane and Ingwavuma regions in South Africa. A series of land concessions granted by Swazi Kings, in particular by King Mbandzeni towards the end of that century, resulted in the Kingdom being dramatically reduced when those lands were incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910. When King Sohbuza II came to the throne in 1921 he made the recovery of the lands a central aim of his reign, but without success. Indeed what was left of the Kingdom was threatened by the policy which the British colonial administration pursued involving the granting of freeholds, especially to ex soldiers of the colonial wars, either in appreciation of services to the British Crown or in settlement of debts. Although the British had shown an inclination to rectify the situation regarding lands incorporated into South Africa before the Kingdom became independent, King Sohbuza could not wait for negotiation, preferring instead the immediate independence of Swaziland. When this was granted in 1968 Swazis living in the 'lost lands' were estimated at between 1.6 million and 2 million as against the country's population then of around 600 000. In 1982 the King attempted unsuccessfully to recover the territories and reunite the Swazis in a secret security pact with South Africa (made public at the time of South Africa's Nkomati accord with Mozambique in 1984). The deal was strongly opposed in the Republic by black and white politicians alike.
The land that actually belonged to the new nation in 1968 was about one third of the territory. The priorrty of King Sohbuza was to recover what was called the 'alienated lands', and in this regard, he set up a buy-back programme funded by the Tibiyo Taka Ngwane Trust Fund, an organ he had set up and into which all the country's mineral rights were paid.
The success of that programme means that today the Swazi Nation Land represents no less than 70% of the territory. Held in trust for the nation by the King, it is, as mentioned above, allocated to Swazis for use by the Chiefs in accordance with customs and tradition.
In addition to the SNL the Swazi Government has, in recent years, been buying privately-owned farms on which it has attempted to resettle families. These are the type of farms our friend, Mr Dlamini, hankers for, but this, unfortunately, is a programme that is being suspended, an official of the Ministry of Agriculture told The Courier for 'lack of financial resources and because of problems with equipment and with communities'. The Government, he said, is thinking more about allocating the farms to associations rather than to families because of the relatively high cost of running them as well as the expertise required.
With an area of only 17 000 sq km characterised by four distinctive physical features (the highveld, the middleveld, the lowveld and the Lubombo plateau) whose climatic and soil conditions vary, the agricultural potential of Swaziland is as varied as it is limited. With the prospect of stiffer international competition, the SNL, whose overall contribution to the Gross Domestic Product is currently Iess than 10%, will have to play a much more important role if Swaziland is to rise to the challenge. And it cannot play that role without a change of policy.
Currently, a plot rarely exceeds four hectares. For years the traditional economy, which is often classified as informal, has operated under this system. Dominated by maize and cotton, agriculture is over 90% rainfed, and therefore very vulnerable to drought (and sometimes to hailstorm). Another feature of the SNL is livestock raising, which alone accounts for 4% of the GDP.
Maize is a very significant crop, being the country's staple food. Although production fluctuates, it has never been enough to meet the country's estimated annual requirements of 223000 tonnes: 111 700 tonnes were produced in 1988/89, 135 000 t in 1989/90 and 153 000 t in 1990/91. In 1991/92 production dropped dramatically to only 45 000 t, because of the severe drought that affected the whole of Southern Africa. This necessitated the importation of 127 300 t. In that year the number of people needing food assistance in Swaziland rose from 150 000 to nearly 200 000 while the situation of 210 000 others was considered to be precarious. This increasing poverty, particularly among the the rural population, means many households do not have enough money to grow their own food on their small land allocations. Although there has, overall, been a slight improvement in food production following the return of the rains last year, the country's food security remains poor. Deficits, at the end of April this year, were put by the National
Early Warning Unit at SO 100 t for maize, 27 900 t for wheat and 5 500 t for rice.
With its population growing at the rate of 3.2% per annum, a number of studies have highlighted the fact that Swaziland will never be able to feed itself. This begs the question whether deriving maximum benefit land cultivated by a few and diversifying and empowering the people financially to buy food are not more advantageous than giving every family access to land as customs and tradition stipulate. The case of an enterprising, hard-working and dynamic farmer like Dlamini readily comes to mind.
Cotton is the main source of cash income for SNL farmers. Like maize it is vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. In 1991/92 production slumped to only 3 000 t, in the wake of the great drought, from the 1988/89 season peak-output of 16 000 t. This has seriously damaged the confidence of the SO or so small-scale growers of the crop. And, furthermore, there is the problem of the Albacala 72 variety which is no longer yielding good quality cotton, resulting in poor income for farmers. This decline in earnings from the traditional SNL crops has provoked a wave of interest in sugar cane growing among smallholders, an interest which has been boosted by the Swaziland Sugar Association's new scheme designed to bring them into an increasingly lucrative industry.
Altogether, about 98 900 hectares of the SNL are under maize and 17000ha under cotton compared to a combined total of 50 000 ha of the Title Deed Lands (TDL) which are under sugar cane, pineapples, citrus and cotton. Modern farming techniques apart, the main reason for the gap between the two sectors' production capacity is irrigation, to which less than 10% of SNL farmers have access, despite decades of rural development during which the provision of water (for human and animal consumption, and for agriculture) has been at the top of the agenda.
There is no doubt that traditional agriculture could perform much better than at present under irrigation, as the output of those SNL farmers with access to it has proved. However, the SNL has been and remains a development nightmare. Because of the scattered nature of Swazi homesteads the provision of amenities such as water, electricity, roads, schools, etc. is hugely expensive and uneconomical. This is why the European Union has adopted a strategy of carrying out a wide range of micro-projects (drinking water, irrigation, bridges, schools, etc.) which is proving very effective on the ground in improving the productivity and the quality of life of isolated communities.
Buoyed by the successes of these projects across the country and the increasing interest of small-scale farmers in sugar cane cultivation, the Government, in 1992, unveiled a E 547 million plan for a huge irrigation dam across the Komati River to develop small-scale agriculture in the Basin. But there are doubts about the effectiveness and the viability of such a project, even though South Africa is expected to participate and share the financial burden, and the Government appears now to share this view. But whether or not the project is eventually scaled down, observers warn that, unless it is accompanied by a measure of reform to the land tenure system, it is unlikely to have the desired impact on agricultural output.
Associated with the issue of land is the SNL's other most intractable problem - the livestock industry. There are over 2 million animals in Swaziland, of which about 800 000 Gust about the human population) are cattle. Their growth in numbers has occurred despite an increase in deaths from drought, a rise in the number slaughtered and a reduction in imports. Ironically, Swaziland Meat Industries has had to close in its third year of operation, because it could not procure enough cattle, owners being generally reluctant to dispose of what is, not only a symbol of wealth, but also a traditional source of economic security. The SMI collapsed, soon after its factory was opened in 1988, was relaunched in 1989 but collapsed again in 1992. There are no large-scale ranches as in Botswana or Zimbabwe. Animals are allowed to roam on communal lands and the result has been serious overgrazing and environmental degradation such as erosion.
Set against the efficiency and high productivity of the Title Deed Land (which represents less than 30% of territory and on which the modem sector of the economy is built), the case for a profound reform of the SNL is overwhelming.
All attempts so far to rationalise the traditional sector have failed. In the early 1980s, a Rural Development Areas Programme (RDAP), backed by the World Bank and several other donors, was set up with the aim of improving the management of livestock and, through the provision of inputs and access to facilities such as loans and irrigation, of boosting output and facilitating the integration of the traditional into the modern sector. By the end of the 1980s it had been abandoned for lack of tangible results from the huge amount of money being spent. Among the obstacles identified as responsible for the failure was the resistance of customs and tradition to change.
But Swaziland has reached the crossroads where it can no longer shy away from land reform which has been, for many years, a highly sensitive issue. Modernists and traditionalists alike in the Government now agree that changes are inevitable. The King is said to have suggested, for a start, that SNL lands around the cities could be expanded to meet growing needs. Such lands understandably will become leasable. 'Everybody is now gearing up to one day seeing long-term leas" on SNL and, once that happens, it would be possible to build your own house in the rural areas, have a title deed and secure loans for investment,' says Mr Ephraim Hlope, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development. 'We will have to sensitise the Chiefs to the fact that the days when they allocated land at random, which made it unproductive, are over,' he added, admitting the powerful influence of the Chiefs and their opposition to change.
But the loyalty and obedience of the Chiefs to their monarch is well known. Swazis will have to look to the Palace for a further lead. Admittedly any land reform will have far-reaching consequences, not just economic but social and political as well.