Regional governors north of the redline say most of the regions in northern Namibia continue to lead the country’s poverty charts because of the infamous veterinary cordon fence “that is crippling the economic potential” of those regions.
Eight regions are situated above the redline. These are Oshana, Kavango East, Kavango West, Omusati, Zambezi, Omaheke, Kunene and Oshikoto.
Created in 1896, Government has been flirting with the idea to remove the redline since independence. Opposition parties have often accused the government of lacking the political will and commitment to legislate on the fence.
The fence has been deeply embedded in political and historical issues, the government has proposed uprooting it to the Angolan border and this has some concerned that the disease will spread to uninfected areas, this is despite the fact that areas like Kunene have not had outbreaks in the last 30 years.
The redline stretches over 1, 000 kilometers across Namibia and separates the country into two parts separating northern Namibia from the central and southern country parts.
The fence stands for a border marking process that reaches back to the nineteenth century as part of establishing colonial control and this internal border reflecting veterinary medicine and colonial development became more determinative for the governmentality and socioeconomic structure of Namibia’s settler society than external borders.
Despite countless pronouncements, even by the President, the redline continues to segregate the country and block northern farmers from accessing markets while their counterparts south of the line continue to make millions from livestock sales.
The Patriot this week spoke to several governors from regions cut-off by the redline to gain insights on how the presence of the VCF is impacting their regions.
Samuel Mbambo, the Kavango East governor said the redline has a huge economic impact on his region.
Mbambo said livestock farming has the potential to pull the region out of the trenches of poverty. Kavango East is one of the poorest regions in the country despite its crop and livestock farming potential.
The governor is somewhat perplexed over the delay to remove the fence.
“I don’t know why the government is taking long[to remove the fence] because that proposal was submitted way back. Kavango West has what we call Kavango Cattle range, it is a small scale operation for farmers and it cannot grow any bigger because farmers are not allowed to sell their livestock beyond the redline. They[farmers] need support from government to sell their cattle just like other farmers below the redline,” said Mbambo.
Sirkka Ausiku, governor of Kavango West, says the redline is a developmental challenge that needs urgent intervention.
“The redline is limiting the potential of the economy of the country because it is limiting the markets.
It[redline] has discriminated against our people and it has blocked them from participating in the global markets.
It has a negative bearing on farmers because we are blessed with good soil and industries but our people are not given the chance to sell their animals on bigger markets. I am not sure why government is yet to remove the redline,” she said.
Ausiku said the fact that no deaths were recorded of humans eating beef from areas above the VCF as well as the absence of animal disease outbreaks indicates that such areas are safe and disease-free and should therefore be granted access to markets.
“ But we are neighboring with other countries and they are not vaccinating their animals and so they think our livestock might have caught their livestock’s infection when they cross the border to go graze in the neighboring countries. Even if it’s so I have not heard of any person complaining about catching an infection through eating meat from Kavango East” says the Governor.
Omusati Governor, Erkki Endjala, said farmers are reluctant to sell their livestock which has become an economic threat. According to Endjala, farmers risk losing their livestock due to the overgrazing.
“Yes farmers do complain because of the inaccessibility of markets. Currently the farmers are forced to buy feed for the animals due to limited grazing areas and they cannot sell because the abattoirs are closed,” said the governor.
Endjala said the existence of the redline is the primary reason preventing northern communal farmers from venturing into full-scale commercial farmers.
Despite an estimated 275 000 cattle and over 15 000 goats in the region, Endjala lamented that the high livestock numbers have not yielded into any economic gains for farmers.
“This is a good opportunity to create employment opportunities, but in this case we are forced to sell below market prices,” he said.
Endjala is confident that Namibia, although already a big player in the international beef arena, has the potential to make greater strides if it removes the VCF (veterinary cordon fence ) and implement deliberate strategies to control disease outbreaks, especially from neighboring countries.
“If the borders can be fenced or closed than it will be easy for government to control the animals” said the governor. Oshana Governor, Clemens Kashuupulwa, also raised concerns on the matter of the Redline, stating that farmers are hardest hit. “They[farmers] cannot take their livestock to auctions beyond the redline because of the VCF,” he said.
“Farmers complain because we have a number of livestock in the area which cannot be sold beyond the redline their livestock which places them at a competitive disadvantage compared to their counterparts south of the redline,” he said.
Kashuupulwa said the regional leadership is constantly engaging the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in an attempt to remove the redline, which will subsequently give northern farmers access to lucrative domestic and international markets.
Efforts to obtain comments from the governors of Kunene, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Zambezi proved futile.
Why the redline remains
Last year government provided reasons why the redline is still intact almost three decades after independence, highlighting the failure to attain Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) free status in areas north of the redline as the primary reason.
Percy Misika, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry at the time said the redline is still in place 27 years after Independence because all efforts to obtain FMD and CBPP free status have not been successful.
“The most recent outbreak in the northern communal areas was resolved in 2016 and marked a significant reversal in our fortunes after years of absence of FMD in that areas.
Outbreaks of FMD have also been reported in the Kavango East and Zambezi regions in 2015. This therefore, makes it very difficult to remove the VCF (Veterinary Cordon Fence) without threatening the entire livestock sector of Namibia.
Parts of the Kavango East and Zambezi regions are known to be reservoirs of the FMD virus due to significant numbers of free roaming African Buffaloes.
Despite having adverse impacts on the majority of the Namibian populace who live north of the VCF, having a border fence in place is the most effective way to control animal disease at this point,” he said at the time.
Misika continued by saying that the most effective way to control livestock disease is by erecting a border fence, even though he acknowledged that such a fence will to some extent have some adverse socio-economic effects on communities living along the borders and as such it has to be approached cautiously through wider consultation of both internal and external stakeholders.