Namibia’s food security paradox
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, food security has become a major concern for Namibia.
03 June 2020 | Agriculture
With jobs disappearing, incomes drying up and savings quickly whittled down, the question of food security lingers in the minds of Namibians in the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic. In this, Namibia is a country caught with its pants down, as it imports 70% of its daily consumables from neighbouring South Africa.
In the latest annual report, 2018/19, of the Namibian Agronomic Board, its chairperson Michael Iyambo said organised farming is vital to achieving food security.
“It requires all players such as producers, banking institutions, input suppliers (seeds, fertilisers, market researchers), electricity and water suppliers and many more to form synergies that will contribute towards driving the ultimate goal of obtaining the desired yields,” he says.
There is a need for a “revolution in the way we farm, grow and operate within the supply chain and the subsequent adaptation towards organised agriculture,” he says.
“We must simply find a way to do more with less by increasing yields and quality thereof, and optimising the use of scarce resources such as water and energy,” he added.
Over the next five years, the agronomic regulator has set three areas on which food security will be hinged - regulatory services, agronomy and horticulture development and operational excellence.
“The importance of planning that is associated with climate change and climate variability adaptation mechanisms can no longer be overlooked if we are to be resilient to the hardships experienced as a result of insufficient rainfall,” says Iyambo.
“He who feeds you, controls you,” says sustainable agriculturalist Venomukona Tjiseua.
He believes food self-sustainability is impossible without deliberate and drastic interventions by the government.
“For a nation to be self-sustaining, its policies should speak to the situation on the ground. Farmers should be subsidised to produce more at a lower cost for the first few years until they have established themselves. Also, supermarkets should be compelled to procure their agricultural commodities locally,” he says.
“All this can happen if more [of the] budget is allocated to the agriculture ministry. The government must revisit its priority list and place agriculture at its correct spot. We can’t remain a net importer of South African farmers’ commodities.”
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform received around N$2.3 billion in the recently tabled 2020/21 national budget of a total N$72.8 billion. Agriculture and Land Reform got N$1 337 414 000, while Water is allocated N$929 177 000.
Agronomy researcher Venaune Hepute believes investment in local production and agricultural inputs (seeds and fertilisers) must be prioritised.
“We must revisit our policies because the reality on the ground shows that they only benefit the minority of farmers. The majority, who are north of the Red Line, primarily communal small-scale subsistence farmers, are left out in terms of development in various aspects such as value addition and processing of agronomic commodities. They don’t have storage facilities and cooling systems,” Hepute says.
He added that practical and scientific research must be conducted to inform Namibia’s competitive advantage in agriculture. “We must invest heavily in crops that are suitable for Namibia’s semi-arid conditions and they must be drought-resilient,” he says.
Fertiliser producer Vaino Nghipondoka was among investors in agri-business interviewed in March: “Food security should become our national agenda. We cannot continue to rely on other countries to feed ourselves,” he said.
On his farm near Otjiwarongo a fertiliser production plant under the banner GrowMax is nearing completion. The project is said to be worth over N$100 million and is set for completion and operationalisation by 2022.
“We needed to create a conducive environment for people, especially the small-scale farmers that want to go into the food security business, in terms of fruits, vegetables, maize and wheat production so that at least they have the [necessary] fertilisers close to them,” he said. The multimillion-dollar factory is the only one of its kind in Namibia, and only the fifth in southern Africa.
“Normally when you place an order for fertilisers, it takes four to five months depending on where you are getting your fertilisers from because everyone around the world needs fertilisers. So, we need to secure fertiliser production before talking about food security,” he said.
At full production , the factory will employ around 70 residents of Otjiwarongo.
Nghipondoka took issue with what he termed encroachment on the part of the government through its direct involvement in the agriculture sector, pointing to the 11 state-run green schemes into which the Namibian government has pumped N$1.7 billion in the last decade.