Are Namibian farmers too old?

Namibian farmers are worried about the lack of young farmers in their agricultural community.

Namibian farmers are worried about the lack of young farmers in their agricultural community.

Of the 2 152 members of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), only one in eight is under 40. Of these, 2% are under 30. The NAU attributed this to the high costs of farming and living that make the profession unattractive for young people.

“The lack of participation by people under 40 spells disaster for the sector,” said Willie Brisley of Kaiserstraat Farmer’s Association, which represents Windhoek and its surroundings.

He said young people are studying and starting careers in town. They often farm part-time with their parents and aren’t actively involved in the sector.

“The high average age of Namibian farmers is not sustainable. In 15 years there will be nothing left of the farming community. We are a small country – we can’t afford to lose the youngsters,” he said. Hansie Esterhuyse (47), an established sheep farmer in the southern Karas Mountains, agreed.

“The high costs make it difficult for young farmers. In the south, a 6 000ha farm would be an economically viable unit. My father bought our farm, Kotze Kous 79, in 1959 and made it work. We farmed together for 18 years until he died two years back and I took over the farm. But during that time I saw that it didn’t work anymore, that I must do something else.

“I worked for Old Mutual for eight years and after that started my own agricultural brokerage. The farm used to be big enough, but now you need probably another 6 000ha. A farmer needs 3 000 ewes to pay the bills; with 4 000 sheep you can run a profitable farm.”

Timm Miller, Namibian Young Farmer of the Year 2011, said restrictive government policies and the rising cost of living make farming less attractive for the younger generation. “Farming has become a professional business. To succeed, there are huge risks that have to be overcome. Some of them can’t be controlled, like the weather or the inconsistency of commodity prices and exchange rates. Running costs are also constantly on the increase. Our labour laws are also quite strict, discouraging the creation of job opportunities and thereby reducing the range of economically viable types of farming options.” – Servaas van den Bosch