By Rakkel Andreas
Food insecurity is detrimental to Namibia’s economy and the society at large, both in the short- and long-term. Namibia has been experiencing a severe drought in the past four years and this has severely impacted both the national and household food security outlook.
At a recent business breakfast meeting to probe the current state of food security in Namibia, Klaus Schade – Director of the Economic Association of Namibia (EAN) – pointed to the need for innovation in agriculture alongside the successful implementation of national policies aimed at securing food.
The aim of the business breakfast, hosted by the Economic Association of Namibia in partnership with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, was to assess the food security situation in Namibia by highlighting plans afoot to combat hunger and the current response to the drought as well as engaging participants on the future role of the fight against hunger in Namibia’s economic development.
An assessment by the National Early Warning and Food Information Unit records that approximately 596 000 Namibians face the distinct possibility of hunger and are in need of food assistance.
Hence, food security has become one of the pressing policy concerns for both government and civil society. Emphasis was placed on the importance of agriculture as a career option for the youth.
Schade stated that the youth do not seem to find careers in agriculture lucrative thus the poor visibility of smart agricultural practices in the country.
Maxwell Nghidinwa, Assistant Farm Manager -Sikondo Irrigation Project, stressed the importance of the youth in aligning themselves to government efforts to find sustainable solutions to pressing issues.
According to Nghidinwa, “The government must send a strong and direct message to the youth regarding the country’s vulnerable position. The youth need to know that the country is in a crisis and they can be part of the solution.”
He further emphasised that government needs to invest in the youth by creating agricultural education opportunities that will enable the transfer of skills from developed countries on green scheme projects.
Namibia boasts 11 smart agriculture ventures such as the Sikondo Irrigation Project located in Kavango West, Etunda in Omusati and Orange River Irrigation project in Hardap.
The green scheme projects are meant to respond to the country’s food security vulnerability as a result of climate change, which resulted in extreme drought conditions. However, lack of financial investment in agricultural research institutions and the heavy reliance on imported produce from a politically instable South Africa also contribute to Namibia’s precarious situation. These challenges, alongside an increasing population, call for nationwide and cross-sectoral collaborative efforts as well as support for smart agriculture, as a sustainable solution to food security.
Jennifer Bitonde, Representative and Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Namibia, has said the Namibian government’s food bank initiative has potential to address food security in the country. She shared insights on international best practices such as in Brazil where food insecurity was successfully tackled.
Nghidinwa, nonetheless, cautioned on the competitive aspect of the food bank against smart agriculture arguing that although the food bank is a noble idea, it competes with the green scheme policy because the latter as a smart agriculture venture also has a poverty eradication and hunger outlook.
“Hence, government needs to find an innovative perspective where the two can complement one another and its (food bank) sustainability is only possible if the food is sourced or purchased from subsistence farmers, especially those who live alongside perennial rivers as this will encourage subsistence farmers to venture into horticultural production, as they start to see the initiative as a means for income-generation.
It will also discourage people from moving to the cities, as their land will become assets of financial income,” Nghidinwa added.
Agriculture is currently the only industry that can provide jobs for both unskilled and semi-skilled people, subsequently qualifying it to significantly reduce the high unemployment rate in rural areas and improve the living standards of people.