Omaruru: Destination for the hungriest of cattle

The western town has become the go-to area for desperate farmers whose animals are starving.

28 November 2019 | Disasters

One of the dozens of communal farmers who have settled near towns in a desperate bid to keep their emaciated animals alive says his small herd stands a chance of survival following a stroke of luck.

“Without the help I received recently many of my cattle would not still be alive, and would all probably have died soon,” Omatjette communal farmer Lisias Karipo (62), who trekked to Omaruru in January over several days, said on Monday.

It was a last-ditch attempt for him and others to secure grazing, which has now dwindled entirely at the town.

Many have left now, with the last grazing gone, including the riverbed reeds that had kept the animals alive for months. Others stayed because owners fear their starving cattle would not survive the long walk back home.

Karipo remains, however, after he met Annika Barty six weeks ago, when she noticed his thirsty cattle next to her property's fence while she was watering her garden.

“You can't see an animal dying next to your fence and not do anything. How can you witness this terrible suffering, cattle that are just skin and bones, and do nothing?”

In an effort to secure feed donations for Karipo's surviving herd of 27 cows and calves, she placed an SOS alert on an online platform last month.

“Omaruru is a beautiful small town in Namibia known for its art, landscape and history, but now it has become a graveyard for cattle and orphaned calves devastated by the drought,” the post read.

Her call for assistance resulted in a donation of 50 bales of ­lucerne from Nico Brand and 30 bales from Henriette le Grange's Farmers Drought Aid Programme so far.Barty says with the economic pressures faced by most Namibians it can be daunting to help others.

Nevertheless, “if everybody puts a drop in the bucket, it will overflow.”

No choice

Barty, a former commercial farmer, currently cares for five of Karipo's orphaned calves, while the rest of the herd are fed and watered on a small patch of land next to the property. Over the past six weeks, the herd has regained much-needed strength, with daily access to water and feed.

“These are the happiest cows in Omaruru,” Karipo said.

Barty warns that the drought is a countrywide problem and “touches all of us, including farmers and townspeople”.

She says the knock-on effects of the drought will be felt by all in the long term, and every little bit of help now will lessen the aftershocks.

“One doesn't expect everyone to give their whole salary, but it is incredible how far just a little can go to help.”

The aim is not to fatten up the animals, but to keep them alive.

Despite the heavily stacked odds, Karipo says he and others are reluctant to kill their livestock.

“If I kill them, or I sell them, and I get that little bit of money, then what? I will have money in my purse, and then that will be gone too. What then?”

Each month he buys feed with a portion of his meagre government grant, but it is far from enough.

Barty says for Karipo, and other communal farmers, their cattle represent their entire livelihood and wealth.

“He will push to keep them alive up to the end. It's easy to say kill or sell the animals, but this is all he owns. He does not have his own land. This herd is his future, his entire wealth and livelihood.”

The other side

Karipo's plight has opened Barty's eyes to the unique struggles communal farmers face.

She says with no land ownership, they cannot get bank financing during times of crisis.

Moreover, a communal farmer's management of grazing is restricted, as they share their land with others, with little control.

The Namibia Chamber of Environment CEO, Dr Chris Brown, agrees.

“Everyone is affected, but on freehold land people can plan their rangeland management on their own farms, without being threatened by other farmers coming in and taking some of their grazing. They can exclude others, thus they are in control of their planning.” He said commercial freehold farmers have title deeds they can lean on in times of crisis, to access loans and other benefits.

“By contrast, communal farmers are in open systems. If they set aside some grazing for bad times, other farmers move their animals in. Communal farmers, under present rangeland systems in Namibia, simply cannot plan and manage for drought. That is why policy reform is so urgently needed.”

Brown added that overall, “not enough is being done in a coherent, coordinated and timely way to help vulnerable people who are affected by the drought – not just farmers, but many other poor people living in rural areas”.

He warned that as droughts become more frequent and more severe as climate change progresses, Namibia requires a national strategy as a standing operational practice to avoid responding to droughts on an ad-hoc basis each time.

An account has been set up at Kaapagri at Omaruru where deposits can be made for feed. Annika Barty can be contacted for more information at [email protected]


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