Farmers in dire straits

Suppressed rainfall over most parts of Namibia has bedevilled the first part of the rainy season, and alarm bells have now been sounded by two of the country's most prominent farmers' unions.

05 February 2019 | Agriculture

An emergency action plan has been compiled to reduce the impact of the ongoing drought in Namibia, which is already a “national crisis”.

The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) and the Namibia Emerging Commercial Farmers' Union (NECFCU) compiled the drought action plan.

According to them the current drought is the worst in recent years, as no part of Namibia has received good rains to date.

“During recent drought conditions, such as in 2016, some parts of the country received good rains, which allowed for the build-up of fodder and hay. This was then donated to drought-stricken farmers. However, currently this is not the case as there is very little hay on the market.”

The unions say that since 2013, Namibia has experienced below-normal rainfall conditions for five out the seven years. This depleted the growth reserves of rangelands, as well as carryover fodder on the veld.

Also, the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak in South Africa resulted in producer prices of sheep and weaners dropping with about 30%, in comparison to December 2018.

Producers therefore have to urgently remove livestock from the veld at much lower prices.

According to the unions, rain prospects for the rest of the season are not good and therefore they have jointly drafted a drought action plan that must be implemented.

An urgent meeting has been requested with agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb, so he can be informed about the severity of the current drought and be provided with the initial proposal to mitigate its impacts.

The goal is to have all three farmers' unions, including the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), represented at the meeting, so one unified proposal can be given to the minister.

A joint NAU and NECFCU statement said it is of utmost importance that livestock exports not be limited, in order to enable producers to market their animals as soon as possible in order to reduce the impact on rangelands.

The ministry and the Meat Board of Namibia will therefore be urgently requested to remove all policies restricting livestock exports in order to minimise financial and livestock losses.

The unions further requested the government to release emergency funds to help with the implementation of a marketing incentive scheme to encourage farmers to sell their livestock.

It was also mentioned that due to the FMD outbreak in South Africa, no hay or silage could be imported to Namibia.

The agriculture ministry conditionally lifted the ban on imports of baled hay and silage on Friday.

The unions also touched on the implementation of the Biosafety Act, which stipulates that no maize containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be imported from 6 February 2019, unless approval is granted by the Biosafety Council.

“Therefore, any farmer who needs to import maize containing GMOs from South Africa to feed livestock will have to undergo the same application procedure as do millers and feed manufacturers.”

The unions have requested that the National Council for Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) urgently exempt farmers from this Act and its procedures.

It was further stressed that the price stability for slaughter animals in the local market is critical for the next three months, in order to enable producers to take decisions about preparing slaughter animals.

“In discussions with Meatco, it was requested that Meatco provide farmers with a three-month price strategy to help farmers make informed decisions on whether to fatten animals or not, based on the prices made available to them.”

The unions also said that most of the livestock currently in the veld are not in a slaughter-ready condition.

However, in order to encourage farmers to invest in additional feed to fatten their animals before marketing, it was suggested that abattoirs come to the aid of farmers by fixing the price for the next three to four months.

This would stimulate and build trust along the value chain and ensure the sustainability of the industry in the future. The unions suggested that another option would be for feedlots to buy livestock now and pay farmers only after three months, or possibly financing the feed, to curb cash-flow challenges.

Meatco has already announced that it will reactivate the contract feeding scheme with immediate effect.

Meatco's contract feeding scheme, introduced through the Backwards Integration Initiative, is an agreement that allows Meatco to buy cattle and place them at a producer's individual farm or feedlot until they are ready for slaughter. The animal is, thus, raised or fed in accordance with Meatco's requirements.

Overall, the producer remains responsible for the performance, growth and health of the cattle. Meatco slaughters the animals when they are ready and pays the producer for each kilogram of live growth achieved during the contract feeding period.

The statement by the unions said currently energy concentrates to fatten livestock are sourced from Zambia and South Africa, but the availability of different commodities is being investigated to provide farmers with affordable solutions.

Advice on the use of bush as fodder during drought is already available, and farmers have been urged to explore these opportunities.

The unions also requested the implementation of assistance measures by financial institutions, in order to ease cash-flow management woes for producers resulting from the drought.

Such measures could include the extension of payments on subsidised loans to survive the effects of the drought.

The Meat Board meanwhile said that considering the current drought, especially in the south of Namibia, and as part of the sheep marketing scheme, a mechanism has been implemented to assist sheep producers who have acquired grazing land in South Africa, to now export their breeding stock to that country.

Such breeding stock must comply with the export conditions of Namibia and the import conditions of South Africa.

Suppressed rainfall over most parts of Namibia has bedevilled the first part of the rainy season, stretching from October to December.

The 2018/19 rainy season started 30 to 60 days late in eastern South Africa, Lesotho, southern Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, and northern Namibia. Rainfall totals in these areas are 30% or more below average.

The delayed and below-average rainfall has been accompanied by above-average temperatures, resulting in moisture deficits across the region and drought conditions.


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