Land resource distribution under customary tenure in Swaziland : a geographic analysis with special attention to semi-arid land
This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of the indigenous management of
geographically diverse small-scale agricultural production environments in Africa by
investigating the effects of customary land allocation on the use of the land and sustainable
agricultural development in Swaziland. This study addresses two questions: (a) to what
extent has the heterogeneity of the natural environment been considered in the allocation of
land for agricultural purposes; and (b) what are the implications of the existing land
allocation system and current land allocation pattern on the development and sustainability
of agricultural land use. The study focuses on semi-arid land.
The land allocation efficiency is determined by comparing the spatial heterogeneity of the
land with the pattern of land allocation. The analysis is carried out at a sub-regional scale,
and a local scale in twelve study areas. Changes over time are studied by comparing
current land allocation patterns with those at Independence (1968).
This study has identified two apparent weaknesses in the customary land management
system. The frrst is in the capacity to ensure an efficient land resource distribution at a subregional
level. The second is in the ability to ensure consistent land allocation practices at a
local level. The study provides evidence that these shortcomings are now affecting the
production environment and opportunities for development, and that changes in the tenure
system are required. The study findings partly support a recent land po licy initiative
proposing a gradual devolution in land management responsibilities to local level
management systems, but also raise two major concerns. First, the land policy initiative
does not address the shortcomings in sub-regional land management. Second, the
inconsistent land distribution found at a local level does not support the notion that
devolution will necessarily lead to more sustainable levels of land use within communities.
In the wider debate on the agrarian transformation in Africa, this study adds to the body of
knowledge in identifying specific shortcomings of indigenous management systems in land
distribution, and their effects on sustainable agricultural development and land
management. The study thus extends the more critical strand of thought on the role of local
and indigenous land management systems in this process, and thus on the effectiveness of
the devolution of resource management to community levels. The study also demonstrates that land sufficiency and quality are important issues in the process of sustainable
intensification in small-scale land use systems, and question the wider applicability of the
optimistic development model, which is primarily based on economic considerations.
Lastly, the fmdings support the critical view on the applicability of the evolutionary theory
of land rights in conditions similar to those in Swaziland.
The fmdings of this study confIrm the importance of considering spatial scale and diversity
in land use related studies, and show that any inference from one level of scale to another
can be highly misleading.