Most of the communal arable lands in the former homeland areas are currently either underutilized or not utilized at all. Among some of the reasons given is the absence of 'land markets' owing to the communal nature of the rights bestowed on the owners/users of the land. This paper aims to propose the creation of semi-formal 'land markets' in communal areas through the development of land registers, which will enable smallholder farmers to transfer land user rights among each other.
A semi-structured questionnaire was administered on land parcel owners in three villages in the Thaba Nchu. The main purpose of the questionnaire was to establish among others the sizes of land parcels held for arable production, whether it is currently being used and if the owners would be willing to temporarily transfer their rights to other villagers. The study found that there is a general interest in arable production, 95% of the respondents would not transfer their rights as they are still interested in arable production. Among these, fifty-five (70%) respondents would enter into one of the following user rights transfer arrangements; sale, lease, share-cropping and free loan. The commonly preferred arrangements are share-cropping and free loan (46% and 15%, respectively), but sharecropping is the most preferred land transfer arrangement. Selling and leasing are the least preferred (both with less than 10%). The reason for their unpopularity may be understood in the context of the land tenure system wherein land holders only hold user rights and not private ownership of the land. Furthermore, the results underscore the importance of land as an asset that households would not want to lose. This is further expressed in terms of the length of periods for which households are prepared to transfer their rights; more than 70% of the respondents would transfer their user rights for a maximum period of four years. Within this, the majority will let their fields for a period of two to four years (41%) and the remaining 33% for only one to two years. The study recommends the creation of functional semi-formal land markets in communal areas as there is an interest in participating in such markets.