Late rains, erratic rains, recurrent droughts, unstable markets, outbreak of animal diseases, and outdated agricultural technologies pose challenges to farmers throughout Namibia on annual basis. Uncertainty is a permanent companion to Namibian farmers.
This year the rains are late. Agronomic farmers wake up every morning looking at horizons for the signs of rain. Every morning so far, they are disappointed.
Agronomic farmers both in commercial and communal agriculture have limited time to plant and for their crops to grow and mature. They are worried and anxious about the prospect of rains and the outcome of this production season. In particular, small holding communal farmers are more vulnerable.
Their subsistence farming is a source of their social protection. However, their options are limited. In my village in Oshikoto Region, rains are understood as a blessing in many ways.
Traditional spinach which is free for all, improve the nutrition status of households. The plum trees bloom and provide fruits to children. The marula fruits are a source of traditional wine and juice. By the month of March green beans are ready for consumption. Cattle return from cattle posts to provide milk. In absence of rain, villagers miss out on these seasonal foods.
Communal cattle farmers face difficulties to keep their animals alive. In communal areas there is limited common grazing ground. As the dry season prolongs animals become weak. Available commercial fodder is unaffordable.
Animal losses become inevitable. In a traditional setting cattle make a man. When cattle start to perish cattle owners become depressed. Under such circumstances traditional farming becomes a struggle.
In Central and Southern Namibia communal farmers are known for weaners and small stock farming. They too have their, special challenges.
Drought decimates their animals. Farming areas are overcrowded. They have no control over the prices of their animals.
Currently, the market has been affected by foot and mouth decease in South Africa. Since South Africa cannot export their meats there is an over- supply of the meat products. Small- stock farmers, in particular, have been negatively affected.
It was delightful to learn that communal and emerging farmers in Omaheke Region have been holding consultations exchanging ideas among themselves as how to cope with the current farming challenges. Established commercial farmers have developed coping mechanisms through their farming organisations, such the Livestock Producers’ Organisation (LPO). Mr Piet Gous of LPO was reported recently saying that LPO has completed a survey on the current production conditions. He described the situation as a national crisis.
He promised that members of LPO will discuss the situation and bring the matter to the attention of Government. Government usually waits for the situation to play itself out and conduct impact assessment after the fact. This is not the best way to deal with a crisis.
Government is supposed to bring together all the farmers in their own settings and be seen to be interested in the plight of the farmers.
For example, farmers could be subsidised to market some of their animals if the rains continued to be delayed. Local meat processors should be encouraged to add value to their products for export to other neighbouring countries.
This will go a long way to bring about value addition in the meat industry.
What is important is that when a country is in a crisis like the one in the Agricultural Sector all interested parties should come together to deal with such a crisis.
Though the contribution of Agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our country has been fluctuating in recent years, the Agricultural Sector provides livelihoods to 70 percent of our population.
Producers, workers, transporters, buyers and sellers of Agricultural produce all benefit. Household food security and resilience is enhanced through Agriculture. Jus imagine, as an example, that mahangu or weaners production collapses in our communal communities. People will be forced to migrate to urban areas and put more pressure on urban resources such as sanitation facilities, housing, water, schools, health facilities etc. Agriculture in its different practices remains a backbone of our nation.
Farming cannot just be left to the farmers alone. Support and encouragement are needed from our Government.
Support and encouragement can come in different forms. These may include creation of markets for communal producers, diversification of market of commercial producers, financial help from the Development Bank of Namibia and Agricultural Bank to Aggro-processors to enable them to diversify their production lines and distribution channels, technical assistance to communal farmers to improve their production systems, training and skilling of workers.
Though farming in Namibia is a permanent struggle, it is a struggle worth waging. It is a struggle for survival. Despite all the challenges farmers face, farming is a renewable resource. What is required is to create resilience in this sector.
Research and developing drought resistant seed varieties, developing appropriate technologies for communal farmers, designing aggro-processing technologies, and encouraging agronomic communal farmers to adopt new technologies shall go a long way to improve agricultural production in the country.
All these things are dowable provided there is the political will, courage and determination. We farmers must take the lead like the emerging farmers in Omaheke and LPO are doing.
Let us all pray in our different belief system for good rains in 2019. Wishing all farmers a productive year!