Resolute Namibian farmers cope with drought, disease

Namibia’s commercial farmers have endured hardship over the past year, with their resilience tested by a harsh extended drought and ongoing foot-and-mouth disease. Derek Wright, exiting president of the Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU), paid them tribute at the official opening of the 2015 NAU congress in Windhoek.

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I am pleased to report that our members have faced up to their problems with a positive and constructive solution-seeking resolution.

I wish to highlight some of these challenges, as it has been recorded that the 2014/2015 rainfall season has resulted in drought conditions considered the worst in 40 years. The negative impact on our agricultural sector has been widespread – crop failure in the maize triangle, the failure of the mahango crop in the Northern Communal Area and the absence of sufficient grazing in our livestock-producing areas.

This is not a good scenario in terms of financial and social stability for our Namibian nation. The financial stress on the agricultural sector could have a devastating effect on the stated government policy of supporting ‘food and nutritional security’ for the nation, and we, the commercial agricultural sector, continue to meet with representatives of government to seek solutions to address this challenge.

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While dealing with this problem, another major crisis that hit the sector was the outbreak of foot- and-mouth disease in the furthermost north of Namibia. Once this became known, the immediate concern from our commercial producers was the state of repair of the veterinary cordon fence. Immediate reconnaissance resulted in reports of breaks in the fence. This was primarily by large game that had broken through, but in some areas farmers had opened gaps for their livestock to access better grazing because of the drought.

The impact on the entire economy, should the outbreak not have been contained, would have been devastating. This resulted in our members in the Outjo, Gobabis and Otjiwarongo regions coordinating with veterinary services to send teams to repair the fence.

The regions which were not involved in the repair exercise were encouraged to contribute to the NAU Contingency Fund, against which claims could be made to cover labour expenses, material, fuel and so forth. The commercial business sector as well as the Meat Board and the Ministry of Agriculture also made provision for monetary and material support to this initiative.
Thanks to this coordinated exercise, the outbreak appears to be contained.

The veterinary cordon fence has been rehabilitated and is now monitored regularly by our members. Another challenge that arose unexpectedly was the unilateral bureaucratic decision-making by our major trading partner, South Africa, to introduce new animal health requirements for live animals entering that country.

This from a country where I was informed during a meeting of the Livestock Producers’ Forum in South Africa that the only permit and control required to move any animal from one corner in the north-east of the country to, say, an abattoir in Upington, was to make certain that the vehicle transporting it had a valid licence!

This action by Veterinary Services, which is supported by the Red Meat Producers’ Association of SA, appears to be more of a trade embargo to ‘protect the interests of their livestock producers’. This is despite the fact that South Africa does not produce sufficient protein to feed its population, and has to import processed meat products from countries such as Argentina and Brazil.

As it so happened, while our producers were factoring this challenge into their future planning, an announcement was made by honourable John Mutorwa, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry on 12 August 2015, that the Namibian government had concluded negotiations with the People’s Republic of China.

This protocol allows Namibia to export bone-in beef to China, and will allow producers to send greater volumes of beef at an expected much lower processing cost into this massive Chinese market. This will hopefully result in a higher price per kilogram for our producers. As one door closes, another opens.

Good news
I have moved directly away from negative news as there is also much to be grateful for. In a recent report by the Mail & Guardian Africa, researched data compiled by the World Bank and the Food and Agricultural Organisation reported on countries that produced the most ‘nutrient-rich food’. 

Where the World Bank’s food production index includes only crops considered edible and which contain nutrients, the research found that in 2013, when the data was last available, Namibia was rated as the top nutritional value producer on the African continent. Our livestock producers have an internationally respected reputation for excellence in terms of their livestock health status, one that we need to protect, and one that government should recognise and communicate with organised agriculture when determining policy to obtain input on the needs of the producers.

At the same time, government needs to examine the reasons for the fact that the contribution of agriculture to the gross domestic product of Namibia has decreased from 7,4% in 1980 to only 3,2% in 2013.

So, stand proud. You have contributed to this international reputation of excellence, despite the fact that we do not always receive the deserved recognition from our political leadership.

Another area where we can be proud is the initiation and compilation of a document entitled the Namibia Rangeland Forum. We are faced with major problems of bush encroachment in Namibia, and a well-researched document by our producers’ organisation has been accepted as a government policy document on rangeland management in the country.

The fact that the agriculture ministry has accepted this report as an policy document that addresses detailed action plans for addressing an overall strategy for improving the rangeland management in Namibia is a compliment to the contribution we have made to the success of agriculture.

I could continue to detail additional areas where organised agriculture has played a leading role in improving the important link in the agricultural value chain to the benefit of our producers.

One example is the introduction of a financial instrument entitled Namibia Beef and Weaner Derivatives by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). This product will be listed on the SAFEX Exchange in South Africa and be tradeable through local financial institutions.

It will provide our livestock producers with an additional tool to hedge against possible negative market movements in the prices received from abattoir/weaner auctions. The fact that a Namibian, Dr Raphael Karuiahe, is the manager of this department of the JSE is a bonus for us. – Annelie Coleman

Phone the NAU at 002 646 123 7838.