SA 'steals' agri jobs

While Namibia's national, rural and youth unemployment rates stood at 33.4%, 33.5% and 46.1% respectively in 2018, the country's livestock exports continue to create jobs in South Africa.

10 October 2019 | Agriculture

Agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb says exporting live animals to South Africa is not a viable platform of trade in the long run, as job opportunities are being created in the neighbouring country because Namibian farmers are more concerned about an extra dollar in their pockets.

Mutton and lamb prices with exports on the hoof are far higher in South Africa than locally and prior to the current drought in the sub-region, weaner prices skyrocketed south of the Orange River, giving farmers far better prices than locally. The small stock marketing scheme also did not help local producers, or abattoirs.

South Africa received over 180 000 cattle and sheep from Namibia in the first quarter of 2019, while over the years millions upon millions of Namibian livestock has flooded the neighbouring market, thereby creating and sustaining agriculture jobs in that country.

Those animals are all exported on the hoof.

According to recent figures released by Statistics SA, 843 000 people work in the agricultural sector in the neighbouring country, while Namibia's sector employs 167 242 workers.

“Surely, we can provide that extra dollar in their pockets if we strategise smartly for the benefit of all in as far as value addition is concerned,” !Naruseb said at the Agricultural Outlook Conference held in Windhoek this week.

The conference theme was 'Rebuilding after the Drought'.

In the first quarter of 2019, 177 180 cattle were marketed through various formal channels. Of these, 68% or just over 120 000 were live exports.

Only 23% of the marketed cattle were taken up by export abattoirs in Namibia, while B&C class abattoirs only enjoyed 9% of the market share.

Export abattoirs also do not process cuts, exporting bulk cuts whole. The value-addition is done in the European Union where the meat is processed into steaks, sausage and other meat products, securing lucrative profits overseas.

Also during the first quarter of 2019, a total of 104 196 sheep were exported live, accounting for 59% (61 475) of the market share. The sheep slaughtered at export abattoirs accounted for 30% (53 851), while those that were slaughtered at the B&C class abattoirs accounted for 11% or 19 133 sheep.

Drought recovery

Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) president Ryno van der Merwe said the reality is that farmer debt levels are high and there is a good chance they might not recover financially from the drought.

“Livestock numbers have at least halved and it will take time to move to a fully-stocked production system,” he said.

!Naruseb said the rebuilding of primary production is of the essence if the agriculture sector is to recover from the drought.

!Naruseb said agriculture employs about 23% of the labour force. Most of these workers are employed in primary production.

“A healthy primary production has the capacity to restore growth in sectors that are directly or indirectly linked to it, such as the milling, manufacturing and processing sectors, transportation, marketing and distribution.”

!Naruseb said since 2013 most areas of Namibia have received below-normal rainfall for five of the seven years, leading to the depletion of rangeland reserves and decreased water capacity in the country.

“A catastrophic number of livestock died across the country and some crop farmers did not plant, leading to a low production yield for the 2018/19 season, severely compromising food security.”

!Naruseb said the government initially allocated N$572.5 million to drought relief to cover food assistance, water tanks, livestock management incentives, transport subsidies to and from grazing areas, transport of fodder, lease of grazing, subsidies to crop farmers, lick supplements and fodder subsidies.

This figure was recently increased to N$595.2 million. Of the N$130.9 million that has already been spent, N$57.9 million was for the provision of food, N$18.9 million for logistics, N$37.5 million for water and N$16.6 for livestock support.

“The question, however, still lingers in our minds what will happen after the drought, if ever there will be an aftermath,” !Naruseb said.

He said farmers are heavily indebted, while low dam levels are affecting production at irrigation projects.

“More importantly, climate change is upon us as we are experiencing unusually high temperatures and therefore high evaporation rates. All these challenges are threatening the country's food security both at household and national level, our strategic food reserves as well as the 70% of the population that depend directly and indirectly on agriculture.”

He said the country's national development policies are also being compromised.

According to !Naruseb increased productivity and growth in the agriculture and food sector have the capacity to achieve economic growth, reduce poverty, improve the livelihoods of rural communities, curb rural-to-urban migration and create multiple job opportunities in the rest of the value chain.

“Consequently, the latter can and should contribute to the reduction of the national, rural and youth unemployment rates that stood at 33.4%, 33.5% and 46.1% in 2018, respectively.”

!Naruseb said all stakeholders need to come together to support the rebuilding phase of primary producers in order to restore growth in the entire value chain.

He said strategies can include providing farmers with supportive interest rates to reduce debt payments, but with the commitment from farmers that they will honour their payment agreements.

!Naruseb said Namibians also need to farm with drought-resistant crops and incorporate climate-smart agriculture.

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