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Monday 22 July 2019
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Beyond drought interventions: toward agricultural transformation

The Namibia Early Warning and Food Information Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, recently released its latest report on Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation in the country. The report which was compiled during the first quarter of this year depicts an alarming situation as far as the crop prospects, livestock and water situation are concerned. The report gives details numbers of animal deaths due to starvation in a number of regions. For example, Kunene North and Erongo Regions so far suffered losses of 12200 and 11800 animals respectively.

 

Ohangwena and Otjozondjupa regions lost 4,700 heads of cattle and goats. The Karas Region lost 13,575 goats and 2150 head of cattle. Omaheke, Omusati and Oshana Regions lost around 2500 animals. In addition, 520 donkeys and 300 horses were lost in Omaheke, Kunene South, Otjozondjupa, and Erongo Regions. These losses affected mainly communal farmers.

 

The impact of these losses are families who are already struggling to survive.
Generally, the Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation Report painted a grim and disturbing picture for communal farmers. The report expects massive reductions for all crop-producing regions.

 

The report estimates that for maize, pearl millet (mahangu) and sorghum production the country should expect a reduction in harvest at least 53 percent of last year’s harvest and over 42 percent below the average annual production. This will translate into dire food shortages throughout the country.

 
The Namibia Sun in its editorial of 25 April 2019 opined: “…our people are reeling under acute drought and the authorities should adopt a proactive attitude and heeds the call of farmers, in order to mitigate the impacts caused by the dry spell.”

 
In a joint Report launched by the European Union, FAO and the World Food Programme titled Global Report on Food Crises, stated that around 113 million people in 53 countries were experiencing acute food insecurity.

 

Climate and natural disasters had pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018. Many Namibians are destined to join these millions. This means that individual countries affected by natural disasters should build the resilience of their affected and vulnerable populations for the purpose of saving lives and livelihoods.

 
The Namibian government allocated N$572.7 million to the Comprehensive Drought Relief Intervention Programme. The Programme shall provide reliefs to drought affected communities countrywide through food assistance, water provision, livestock marketing incentives, leasing of grazing and similar measures. This is basically a band-aid solution to a much deeper problem.

 

Namibia is a country prone to disasters such as the current drought and recurrent floods in certain localities. Namibia need therefore an agricultural transformation strategy.

 
Greg Mills, Olusegun Obasanjo, Jeffrey Herbs and Dickie Davis (2017) in their ground braking book, MAKING AFRICA WORK, identified five steps for transforming African Agriculture. These are: a)governments should eliminate distortions of agriculture pricing; b) governments should put into place mechanisms for better disaster forecasting in order to deal with fears of food shortages; c) governments should invest into new farming technologies; d)there must be long term land security; e) and governments should ensure infrastructure to support farmers.

 
Namibia has a lot to learn from these recommendations. In recent years the Agronomic Board has introduced price controls on pearl millet. This had an effect of millet farmers withholding sales of their surplus produce. Very few mahangu farmers availed their surplus produce to AMTA when the organisation decided to invite producers to sell their surplus mahangu.

 

Government interference in the market a few years ago discouraged sheep farmers in the South from increasing their stock since the procedures of marketing their animals in neighbouring counties were cumbersome.
As far as small-holder farmers in the communal areas are concerns, Government has not helped them to change their traditional methods of farming beyond the provision of ploughing services to some. Traditional farmers should be introduced to new farming methods and agricultural mechanisation in order to improve their yield per acre. Extension services in rural areas are non-existent.

 

Research in soil fertility and new seed varieties is lacking. There is an International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hydrabad in India which has the technical know-how, and which could assist the Ministry of Agriculture to modernise rural agronomic economies. Rural agriculture urgently need to be modernised in order to build up rural household food security.

 
Agriculture production in rural communities remains a story of unrealized potential. This is because traditional farmers are left to their own traditional ways of farming. Traditional Agriculture should be transformed through a package of reforms. These reforms should include long-term tenure security, introduction of new farming methods and technologies, a variety of drought resistant seeds, weed control, post-harvest loss control, market for surplus produce and reliable extension services.

 
In animal husbandry communities, many farmers continue to be weaner farmers. Their livelihoods are depended on prices offered by weaner buyers at auctions. Their “Reserves” remain over-crowded.

 

One way of helping these farmers is to expand their grazing areas by buying some of the adjacent commercial farms and make them available to those farmers who want to venture into oxen production. Such farmers could be organised into cooperatives which could manage the use of such farms.
The Affirmative Loans of Agricultural Bank should be re-visited. The Scheme is currently not working. Beneficiaries of the Scheme are finding it difficult to meet their obligations due to a variety of adverse economic and climatic reasons. Some of the farms were over-priced above their economic value.

 

Such a situation has put new farmers into an untenable economic dilemma. Years of intermittent droughts have further complicated the ability of new farmers to service their loans with Agri-Bank. The threat by Agri-Bank to re-possess the farms is like to lead to social unrest and entice communities to engage into illegal farm invasion. An amicable solution should be found which allows the new farm owners to continue farming under some kind of Bank supervision.

 
The current drought situation should be a wake- up call for the Nation to think out of the box, so to say. We should not only think of declaring a drought emergency, but more importantly to plan for the future. The Nation must find ways and means of ensuring food and nutrition security for all, not through band-aids but through improved production strategies!




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