…as Namibia’s first food bank opens
• Only households earning below N$400 qualify
• 117 volunteers trained
• Monthly food parcels worth N$550
• 27 500 to benefit during pilot phase
• Sustainability of food banks questioned
A food bank was launched in Windhoek, as poverty coupled with a ravaging drought that is expected to leave over 26 million children hungry in southern Africa according to UNICEF, continues to batter thousands of Namibians.
In a rather unexpected move, considering the magnitude of the event, Geingob took the platform to lash out at his critics saying: “There are some who may seize this opportunity not to celebrate this breakthrough moment, but rather to express their habitual criticism of Government’s developmental efforts. “Many of these people never wanted us to arrive at this moment, but unfortunately for them, the spirit of Harambee is stronger than the spirit of division. There are those that will question the sustainability of food handouts and say that it will create a dependency syndrome,” explained Geingob.
He further said: “To those people, I would like to say that they should understand that the food bank concept is part of an integrated poverty eradication framework, which includes graduation model. The intent is to ultimately break the poverty cycle and not create dependency.” Geingob launched the food bank a day after declaring a state of emergency, as a result of the ongoing drought conditions. The service-based establishment is expected to be one of many similar projects in a bid to fight hunger.
The current economic conditions and poor rainfall means more and more people are struggling to put food on the table, so dire is the situation that not only are low-income earners suffering, but those in the upper brackets of the income pyramid feel the pinch as well. Over 5 800 households with a total of 27 500 individuals expected to benefit from the food bank in Tobias Hainyeko Constituency during this pilot period.
There are, however, fears that pensioners and disabled persons, who currently earn grants of N$1 100 each would be side-lined since they earn above the set limit. The criteria for the identification of the poor and vulnerable persons during the pilot phase to benefit from the food bank are households whose total per capita monthly income is below N$400. This means that the support is given at household level.
For the upcoming month of July, 160 753 Namibians will receive the old age pension pay-out totalling N$176 828 300 and 36 187 Namibians will receive the disability grant total of N$39 805 700.
Geingob reiterated the need for preparedness by ensuring appropriate systems are put in place to address poverty and the food bank involves the sourcing of food and non‐food items and the distribution of the same to the needy people, who are identified using Street Committees, according to the set criteria.
In developing the food bank, the ministry will also develop mechanisms to enhance the feeding programmes for the destitute and those that are unable to feed themselves even if provided with food items. The ministry has so far trained 117 community-based, unemployed volunteers, predominantly youth, residing in the pilot Tobias Hainyeko and Samora Machel constituencies, selected in consultation with the regional council. These volunteers constitute Street Committees.
The street committees will then identify and register beneficiaries according to the criteria set by the ministry, and do on-going assessment of vulnerability in the locations, they will also be tasked to coordinate the collections and distribution of food parcels in the locations and receive an allowance for the work done.
The enlisting of street committee members is expected to provide income to such members and enable them to support their families.
The ministry will embark on a skilling programme for the street committee members, to enable them to undertake the functions entrusted to them, it was stated. The monthly food parcels for the beneficiaries have been constituted in consideration of the nutritional value they provide, and aimed to supplement household feed, and contain the following nine items, with a market value of N$550: 1x10kg of maize meal; 6x400g tinned fish; 4x300g corned meat; 1x750ml cooking oil; 2x500g beans; 4xpacket yeast; 1×2.5kg bread flour; 1x2kg brown sugar; 1x750g green soap bar.
The sourcing of the items would be done in accordance with government procurement procedures and emphasis will be placed on procuring local products, in line with the government’s growth at home strategy. The food bank is one of many interventions in the war against poverty. The provision of food to the most vulnerable is a short‐term intervention to those households most at risk of hunger and poverty.
“The food bank is part of an integrated poverty eradication strategy and to this end, the government will adopt a graduation model, which is aimed at assisting the vulnerable beneficiaries to become self-reliant and engage in activities that can provide them with sustainable income,” Geingob said.
The government has reiterated that the ongoing assessment of beneficiaries entails the identification of new beneficiaries, but also identification of existing beneficiaries’ that would graduate from the identification of existing beneficiaries that would graduate from the programme, either through gaining employment, improved household income or other training and development interventions.
“The provision of food to the needy is not aimed to create dependency, but to assist the vulnerable and the needy. With the provision of these items, such persons would be empowered to actively participate in the life activities, and be able to sustainably feed their families and send them to schools,” said the President.
The street committee will monitor and report non‐adherence by parents to send their children to school and for vaccinations.
Therefore, strict measures and monitoring will be done on on‐going basis to track undeserving persons who are benefiting, using the street committees.
The street committees will distribute the food items to the beneficiaries on a scheduled monthly basis. Distribution of the food parcels starts immediately in the pilot constituency of Tobias Hainyeko. The roll‐over to other constituencies in Khomas Region would follow and planned to be concluded by end December 2016.
Thereafter, the programme would be rolled out to other towns outside Windhoek.
In rolling out this function, the ministry will require suitable logistical infrastructure. Thus the construction of a food bank building in Windhoek is receiving considerable attention.
Initially, said Geingob, government planned to construct warehouses with state-of-the-art cool rooms and abattoirs.
“However, following a number of conflicting quotes received from prospective constructors, and given the exorbitant costs quoted, after some soul searching, we realised that this would be a contradiction to our efforts of fighting poverty. It would be preposterous if government were to build a facility which costs close to N$100 million while our people are going to bed on empty stomachs,” he said. In the meantime, the ministry will continue to make use of the existing facilities, primarily those of the Office of the Prime Minister. We shall also create synergies with other partners in the handling and processing of the food bank items.
During a brief telephonic interview with this publication yesterday, Bidvest Namibia’s managing director for food and distribution welcomed the concept. “The food bank concept is a good concept. The private sector should work together and assist the President in this project. It is a very good initiative,” Feris said.
By Cathy Amutenya and Cecilia Iyambo