Livestock wasting away
Five-year drought takes devastating toll
27 December 2016 | Agriculture
Hundreds of thousands of livestock have perished due to the drought and thousands of people grow hungrier every day.
This is according to an in-depth assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation that has for the first time revealed the full scope of the devastating toll that the prolonged drought has had on some communities in Namibia.
The assessment indicates that between 2011 and 2015 more than 142 000 cattle perished due to drought conditions in Namibia, while more than 16 500 sheep died.
It is further estimated that a total of 40 880 cattle, 13 895 sheep, 235 goats, 18 donkeys and 63 horses have died due to the drought between October last year and May this year.
The report says that livestock mortality over the last five years due to drought has far outweighed mortality due to any other cause. The veterinary department reports that total number of cattle lost due to drought between 2011 and 2015 for example is 142 901 as compared with just 13 962 lost to disease within the same period.
The assessment focussed on the Kunene, Omusati and Erongo regions and how drought impacted these communities.
According to the assessment, at least 97% of communities in Omusati are reliant on crop production, followed by Kunene where 20% of communities rely on crop production while in Erongo 96% of households rely on livestock farming and 72% in Kunene.
At household level, Erongo had the highest proportion of goats and sheep lost due to the effect of the drought whereas Omusati had the highest losses for cattle.
At the time of conducting the survey, some of the households had migrated with their herds in search of grazing and water.
Farmers reported poor reproductive performance within their herds, citing problems such as spontaneous abortions, low birth weights, dystocia, calf mortalities and longer calving intervals due to the poor body condition of their animals.
They also reported a decline in frequency of clutching and clutch size for the indigenous poultry, highlighting that the number of eggs was gradually declining over time. This often happens as a result of extremely high temperatures.
In Kunene and Erongo especially, the rangeland is mostly bare, with very little ground cover, says the report.
According to the assessment farmers are concerned at the rate at which perennial grass species are being replaced by poisonous plants and invader bushes that are not beneficial to livestock farming. This has led to animals accessing inadequate grazing of poor quality and low nutritive value, resulting in poor livestock condition, with many farmers reporting livestock deaths.
About 60% of the households in Omusati, 29% in Erongo and 20% in Kunene regions are currently unable to meet their food needs as most households are reported to have depleted their last season's harvest and are now dependent mainly on the market and the government's Drought Relief Food Programme for food access. However, according to households interviewed the supply of drought relief food is inadequate when compared to the number of food insecure people, says the report.
“Households noted that, the drought relief food distribution takes too long to come to the household's rescue and is only targeting certain households that are regarded as most vulnerable. Household owners are therefore requesting the government to improve the supply of the drought relief food, ensure timely delivery of the food and cover all the households affected by the drought condition.”
The assessment also indicated that up to 77% of the households in Omusati have inadequate supplies of water for human use as compared to 45.9% of the households in Kunene and 34.1% in Erongo.
According to the report the drought adversely affected crop production with most farmers in the assessment area reporting total crop failure. The average crop losses for maize were 94.7% and 72.6% in Omusati and Kunene regions respectively.
Crop losses for mahangu in Omusati was 75.8%. Other significantly high losses were 100% for other cereals and orchards, 92.6% for sorghum, and 90% for vegetables in Omusati.
According to the report to assess the impact of drought on irrigation, farmers were asked to estimate the percentage reduction in irrigation capacity. Almost 32% of the irrigation systems were negatively affected. This was partly due to a variety of factors, ranging from dried up water sources due to a low water table as a result of poor rains, damaged canals, broken-down irrigation pipes and damage to infrastructure as wild animals such as elephants were moving into communities in search of food and water in Kunene. This consequently leads to a significant drop in the contribution of irrigated crops to household food security.