Farmers take massive hit

The full impact of the ongoing drought on local farming is slowly starting to emerge, and the situation is grim, with the farmers themselves now food insecure.

04 September 2019 | Agriculture

The latest crop estimates indicate that total cereal production in Namibia during the 2018/19 season declined by 61%, compared to the previous season, and is 52% below the annual average. This means Namibia will have to import 75% of its crops and grain requirements for the current season - a whopping 261 500 tons. Crop production for the 2018/19 season is estimated at 59 400 metric tons, compared to 2017/18 when it was 152 900 tons, while the average total crop production for Namibia is 122 800 tons. Most government silos stood empty by the end of July, with stock of only 14.8% in total. This consisted of about 1 144 tons of white maize at Katima Mulilo in Zambezi and about 2 245 tons of pearl millet at Okongo in Ohangwena. The crops in these silos are milled and distributed directly, as part of government's drought relief assistance. The Crop Prospects, Food Security and Drought Situation Report, which has just been released by the agriculture ministry, says Namibia will have to import 75% of its crops and grain requirements for the current season. According to the report, the cereal available locally for the May 2019 to April 2020 marketing and consumption period is estimated at 88 900 tons. This comprises of 17 900 tons wheat, 61 000 tons white maize and 10 000 tons of pearl millet and sorghum. However, the current domestic availability is only 25% of the required cereal; therefore, 261 500 tons are needed to recover the shortfall. According to the report, all Namibia's major crop-producing areas recorded a substantial reduction in their cereal harvests. Many of the rain-fed crop-producing farmers recorded complete crop failures, which did not only leave them food insecure, but also compromised their livelihoods.

“Household food security has weakened significantly, following very poor agricultural production, due to severe drought conditions experienced in the season. Consequently, many households will be faced with food insecurity during June 2019 to March 2020, as the majority of crop farmers recorded crop failures, which has consequently limited their capacity to restock their food reserves,” the report says. The report says that people's livelihoods, especially in the rural areas, are severely affected by the ongoing drought, which did not only affect people's access to safe and nutritious food, but also crippled the ability of the agricultural sector to contribute to the country's gross domestic product (GDP). According to the Namibian Vulnerability Assessment Committee report for 2019, over 289 644 people are food insecure and need immediate food assistance. This number is expected to rise during the course of the 2019/20 consumption period. The total cereal production for the 2018/19 season consists of 43 600 tons of white maize, 9 300 tons of pearl millet, 400 tons of sorghum and 6 000 tons of wheat. Maize production in the communal areas (Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West) decreased by 81%, from 6 900 tons in 2017/18 to 1 300 tons in 2018/19. It was 80% below the average production of 6 600 tons. In the commercial area, there was a decrease of about 19% in maize production when compared to the 2017/18 harvest, which was 52 400 tons. However, this was still at the average production level of 42 400 tons. Pearl millet production showed a significant decline of 89% from 83 500 tons in during 2017/18 season to 9 300 tons in 2018/19, which was 84% below the average production of 57 500 tons.

Sorghum production also showed a major decrease of 90% from the 4 000 tons harvested in 2017/18. This is about 95% below the average production of 7 100 tons. At the time the report was being compiled, the total planted area for cereal coarse grain was estimated at 180 100 hectares, reflecting a reduction of 41% compared to the 2017/18 season, and 46% below the average planted area.

“The reduction is attributed to the severe and unprecedented drought conditions experienced this season. Many crop farmers are reported to have given up on cultivation earlier in the season, owing to extremely poor rainfall conditions and prolonged dry spells, which are said to have dominated the season,” the report said. The 23rd Southern African Regional Climate Forum (SARCOF-23) said last Friday that normal rainfall is expected in southern Africa in the coming months of October, November and December.

For the months of January, February and March next year, there will be normal and above-normal rainfall, except in the west of Angola and Namibia, southern South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Madagascar, which will have normal rainfall, with a below-normal trend.

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