Sunday 25 October 2020
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Rethinking agronomic production in Namibia

The 2019 Agronomic Season proved to be a disaster to agronomic producers in Namibia. Small-holder agronomic producers, in particular, were severely affected by poor rainfall. Some could not even till and plant their fields. Those who planted saw their crops wilting and die before maturity.
This left many households in serious food insecurity. Government had to declare a drought emergency and allocated more than N$500 million to address the situation.
This amount will enable the Government to provide food assistance to vulnerable households; distribute water to communities; give incentives to livestock farmers to market some of their animals; subsidize fodder and lick supplements for animal feed; and other related assistance to farmers. This is a commendable initiative on the part of the Government. However, Namibia is a country prone to climatic events such as drought and floods. We may experience floods in the next rain season. The country may end up declaring climatic emergences every year given the threat of climate change. The country should start to rethink its agricultural policies. Rain fed crops create perpetual food insecurity.
While it is important to mitigate against climatic events, it is equally important to devise ways and means of adaptation to climate change.
Of the more than N$500 million allocated to drought mitigation at least N$50 million could have been allocated to adaptation measures. Such amount could be used to conduct research in agronomic adaptation strategies.
There are new methods of farming being adopted in many countries. These include the use of greenhouses, hydroponic technologies, vertical farming, aquaponics and other controlled farming technologies.
Greenhouse farming is being practiced Namibia. Farmers along the Okahandja River use greenhouse technology to produce vegetables under controlled conditions. Though the greenhouse structures may prove expensive to small-holder farmers, Government may consider sponsoring research in the use of local materials to construct greenhouse structures. In Asia greenhouse structures are constructed from bamboo plants.
There is no reason why greenhouse structures could not be constructed from reeds or millet stalks or other similar local materials.
Hydroponic technologies are being introduced in the country though at a small scale. This technology could easily be introduced to schools as part of Life Science Studies. The technology does not require too much space or water. Hydroponics combines with aquaponics where water from the fish- pond circulates to plants and fertilise plant roots. No soil is needed. The farmer grows plants as well as fish. The system requires electricity to pump the water from aquaculture to hydroponic system and back. A small solar plant may provide the required energy. If school children are introduced to these technologies at the early age, they are likely to adopt them in their adult life.
Vertical farming is more sophisticated. It is an indoor farming technology and uses controlled environment agriculture.
Environmental factors such as light, humidity, temperature and gases are controlled for optimal plant growth.
Vertical farming takes place in used warehouses, shipping containers or in multi-story skyscrapers. In fact, vertical farming has become part of what is called landscape architecture where plants are grown on building roofs to provide urban greenery.
Vertical farming is being promoted by environmentalists to prevent farmers from cutting down more trees to make way for farming.
The drawback of vertical farming is the cost of energy which is required to control environmental factors. Namibia has abundant sun and solar energy may provide the required energy.
These farming technologies are still new. For a country like Namibia they are worthy of adopting even at a small scale. They should complement traditional farming. Since traditional farming depends on weather patterns it could not be relied upon to support food security. The new farming technologies are knowledge based. They require learning and adoption.
They however have a potential to address food security in a country like Namibia where climatic events are part of our life. Our institutions of higher learning should be supported to leverage these new farming technologies as part of climate adaptation strategies. Nature has been interfered with by human activities. It is important therefore to use knowledge as means of adaptation to the new normal. We cannot continue to live in the state of nature. We should learn to control nature just as other people are doing. Failure to do so Namibia may become a perpetual begging nation.
Funding of knowledge creation and the adoption of new technologies should become part of our culture.
Our brains should be put to use to find solutions to the challenges of survival. Failure to do so our future is bleak.
Our youth should be at the forefront of finding new ways of farming and food production. The ball is in their court!

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