Boost local food production - Schlettwein
26 October 2020 | Agriculture
Namibia can no longer rely on supplies of basic commodities from elsewhere, nor should the country feel secure in using monetary reserves to procure staple food imports to compensate for domestic food production shortfalls.
This was said by agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein at an Economic Association of Namibia (EAN) conference on Wednesday.
“We must instead optimally utilise available resources to boost local agriculture production.”
Schlettwein said agriculture should be recognised as the leading sector in Namibia's economic recovery, future food security and growth. He said as an economy that consumes what it does not produce and produces what it does not consume, stimulating the economy with higher public consumption does not cut it.
“Structural reform and significant investments in the productive sector are required. The economy must be turned into an investment-led and export-driven economy with domestic and regional value chains adding value to available raw materials.
“Quality finished goods and services should become our tradable products, not only primary goods. Agricultural production and agro-processing show significant potential.”
According to him the agriculture sector specifically (agriculture, forestry and fishing) registered a contraction of 2.6% in 2019, compared to a decline of 1.9% registered in 2018.
However, the good news is that the agriculture sector grew by 42.7% in the first quarter of this year. According to him the export of live animals has historically contributed to about two-thirds of agricultural exports by value.
In 2019, Namibia exported about 12 400 tonnes of meat.
“The Namibian beef value chain sustains both large and small cattle farmers. The new balance that must be found is one that assures access for all farmers to it without risking the loss of either access to the best-paying export markets such as Europe, the United States and China and access to regional markets, mainly South Africa.
“It means that the duality in the livestock sector, that is the difference in opportunities between south and north of the Veterinary Cordon Fence, must be addressed without risking the outstanding animal health record Namibia holds.”
Schlettwein further said that exports of crops, vegetables, fruits, and forestry products have grown in recent years and by value have surpassed the beef export value.
“We have two initiatives, the Green Scheme and the National Horticulture Development Initiative (NHDI), aimed at increasing local agricultural production.”
The Green Schemes encourage the development of irrigated agronomic production with a target of reaching approximately 27 000 hectares along the perennial rivers bordering Namibia.
“The Green Schemes have not met many of the initial goals with less than 9 000 hectares under irrigation and several of the Green Scheme projects struggle financially.”
According to Schlettwein the reasons for the poor performance of Green Schemes are varied, but mainly inadequate and poor management.
According to him opportunities to diversify Green Scheme production, to open to private sector participation, to generate power and reduce irrigation costs are available to move from loss making to surplus production and profits.
Under the NHDI, Schlettwein said the government aims to increase local production and facilitate the marketing of fruit, vegetables, livestock fodder, and other horticultural products.
One element of the NHDI is an import substitution programme dubbed the Namibian Market Share Promotion (NMSP). In terms of the NMSP, importers of fresh horticulture produce are required to source a minimum percentage of their products from Namibian producers before qualifying for an import permit.
The initial NMSP threshold was set at 5% in 2005, which has since increased to 47%.
The Namibian Agronomic Board indicates that as a result of the NHDI (and other initiatives), local horticulture production has grown by 52% since 2005.
Schlettwein added that in further support of the NHDI, the government set up the Fresh Produce Hub in the northern regions with the aim of increasing food production while preserving the freshness of food, which unfortunately under-performed under the ambit of the Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA).
“Here too institutional reform is required to improve viability, especially for support to small-scale producers in marketing and trading with fresh agricultural produce.”
Furthermore, Schlettwein said that other subsections in agriculture are in dire circumstances.
“The dairy sector can hardly stay afloat, the small stock (sheep) producers are in an equally difficult situation and so are the Swakara (karakul) producers.
We believe that survival of these subsections is possible, but it needs support and protection. A blend between subsidies, safeguards and investments needs to be developed and all stakeholders must chip in.”