Namibia does not want to alleviate poverty, it targets to eliminate it completely, and one of the tools enlisted by Government for this war is the food bank concept. There are currently no food banks in Namibia, but if all goes according to plan the country could be home to seven food banks by 2019. This is one of the ministerial targets set by the Ministry of Poverty Eradication listed in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework 2016 to 2019. With official statistics indicating that 82% of Namibians living in rural areas are poor, Government reiterated that the food bank concept is not in any way meant to promote a culture of handouts, but rather one of the weapons in the war against poverty. The poverty fight is a steep uphill battle for Government, one that will need a comprehensive strategy if the thousands of Namibians that go to be hungry every night are to be taken care of. Since the dawn of the food bank concept started in the United States of America in 1967, a major distinction between food banks across the world is whether or not they operate on the front line model of giving out food
directly to the hungry, or whether they operate with the warehouse model which supplies food to intermediaries like soup kitchens and orphanages.
In Namibia, however, the poverty ministry’s Permanent Secretary I-Ben Nashandi did not at this stage indicate the kind of model his ministry will pursue. “Given the diversity and vastness of the societies, we shall implement the most workable efficient models that enable us to achieve our objectives fairly efficiently,” said Nashandi while responding to written questions posed to the ministry by this newspaper. Nashandi further substantiated that the process will require a hybrid of operations in some instances, therefore, “we remain open and our design of the pilot facility can also cater for both models.” With the pilot set to kickoff later this year here in Windhoek, according to Nashandi: “The Windhoek food bank will serve as the main national facility and it will feed the other food bank facilities that will be established in other regions at a later stage.” As for the cost aspect, Nashandi said the monetary requirements of setting up food banks will depend on the size and features of each facility. “There is thus no one cost for all. The Windhoek food bank will be the main one, and the facilities therein will also not be same necessarily as that of other food banks,” he said. Nashandi also indicated that the ministry will also explore existing structures in the regions in order to cut cost and time.
The ministry has a projected expenditure of N$639 million on poverty eradication and food provision programmes for the current MTEF which runs until 2019 Apart from only feeding the poor, the ministry said it also plans to design mechanisms and programs to empower the poor so that they break out of the cycle of abject poverty and subsequently enable them to meaningfully participate and contribute to the country’s economic growth. Unemployment has been a constant headache to Government over the years, and with statistics showing that one in every three people in Namibia is unemployed and youth unemployment surpassing the 40% mark many destitute Namibians are looking to the State for a solution. During a two-day visit to Namibia last year, UN Economic Commission for Africa, Dr. Carlos Lopes, expressed concern during a meeting with President Hage Geingob that Africa’s inability to use its youth in transforming its economy is one of the major factors hampering growth and effectively fighting poverty on the continent. “Africa has a high demographic dividend and youth numbers – in itself a possibility to use the youthfulness to transform its economy but it is not happening. There is economic growth on the continent but not at the desired rate mainly because most youth are not employed,” said Lopes at the time.
Hunger and malnutrition also remains a serious concern, as vulnerability of people to drought and other climate related disasters continue to wreak havoc. Nashandi said; “Besides providing food the ministry, we will also encourage Namibians to make donations on non-food items that can be helpful to vulnerable needy citizens.” These include things such as used clothing, beddings and educational materials, he said, adding that food banks must be another vehicle through which each Namibian can assist a fellow needy Namibian.
Contrary to past methods, where Namibian lawmakers created habitual tendencies to travel the world under the pretext of observation visits to learn how certain concepts are carried out, Nashandi said the minister has not undertaken any visits to other countries to see how the food bank concept is administered. “The food bank concept fortunately was well researched before the establishment of the ministry. In moving ahead with the establishment of the food bank, we also use the prior work that was done and we shall continue to seek partnerships with other countries to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of running our food banks,” he emphasized. Nashandi, however, believes that although Government will play its role to ensure that food banks remain operational, the public is still expected to assist the needy.