Traditional communal farming in southern Africa has often been described as unproductive and directly responsible for regional poverty and vegetation degradation. Each aspect of this argument rests on a set of unchallenged assumptions concerning the nature of communal farming. Studies which emphasize the social and cultural significance of communal farming systems are highlighted. These studies also suggest that communal farming systems are logical and pragmatic adaptations to local conditions, especially from the point of view of local communities, and that they often have underlying rules of behaviour. It is concluded that unless full participation of local communities at every level of the decision-making process is guaranteed, resistance to and failure of agricultural development programmes is likely.
Keywords: agricultural systems; communal grazing; decision making; degradation; farming; land use; local community; namibia; rural development; semi-arid regions; southern africa; tragedy of the commons; vegetation degradation