One of the key objectives of the South African land reform programme is to provide poor people with an additional asset that they could use to develop strategies to escape from poverty. Although land ownership patterns have begun to change, there is little evidence to show how land reform beneficiaries are using their land and whether it is making a significant impact on poverty reduction.This report is based on a study examining the assets, activities and income sources of a random sample of households chosen from eight land reform groups, looking at changes between 2001 and 2003. The findings showed that the majority of households in the sample had limited asset holdings, and were involved in a narrow range of activities. In general the poorer households were highly dependent upon public transfers, in particular old age pensions and disability allowances.The rich, who had larger asset holdings, avoided poverty by successfully accessing the labour market. While most households had increased their livestock holdings, there was little evidence to demonstrate that they were making agriculture a more significant part of their livelihoods. Moreover, income derived from their land was a small proportion of total household income.The context is characterised by low levels of technical and managerial support from the government, dry climatic conditions in the region, and the competitive nature of South Africa’s agricultural market. As a result, the decision by households to treat agriculture as only a minor component of their livelihood strategy is a rational one. These circumstances mean the land reform programme will be unable to make a significant impact on poverty reduction. Consequently, there is a need for organisations with practical experience of the land reform programme to advocate for change.[adapted from author]
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