Shifting the Red Line

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Project to Unlock Economy of the North By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry plans to conduct a pilot project on how best to integrate the communal areas north of the red line into one economic unit with the more commercial south/central areas. The absence of a fence along the Namibia/Angola border has denied Namibia the status of being Foot and Mouth Disease free and being recognised as one economic unit. As a result, the furthest the meat from the northern communal area (NCA) can go for export is the South African market, while meat emanating from south of the Veterinary Cordon fence (VCF), which is also regarded as the commercial farming area is exported overseas. The first two attempts to erect fences between the two countries in 1990 and 1994 proved futile as the fences were vandalised. While farmers in the northern communal areas of Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Oshana, Kunene, Opuwo, and Caprivi have and continue to express concern over the status of the north, it is believed that the areas hold enormous economic potential as they keep more than half of the country’s cattle population. The areas combined have about 1.1 million heads of cattle compared to the south, which has around 900 000. Raimar von Hase, the president of the Namibia Agricultural Union said recently that having a fence between the two countries could unlock the economic potential of the northern areas. He added this could lead to economic growth and employment creation, which the country sorely needs. Von Hase said due to good rainfall in the north, farmers there need less hectares for their animals thus making the area more productive, unlike the south of the VCF. The Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Otto HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼bschle agrees that due to the fact that areas north of the red line are not yet certified disease free, they cannot access international markets such as the EU. While plans are there to eventually re-erect a fence between the two countries, it may take a while. Dr HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼bschle told New Era yesterday the ministry would soon embark on a pilot study to see how to eventually integrate the whole of the NCA into one economic unit. This would also entail the removal of the red line. However, this remains a complicated process, as the country will have to check all aspects relating to animal disease control such as movement control, group and individual identification and treatment of animals. “These are aspects our international market partners want to know,” said HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼bschle, adding that “once we know what the situation is, then we can put up the border fence.” The CVO said the fence could not be the first thing towards getting to a different economic system in the north. He was also aware of the fact that the northern areas need awareness to ensure that once the fence is re-erected, it would not be vandalised again. People, said HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼bschle need to know that there are “certain things which they need to do whether they like it or not”. “For years, people of the north have demanded they want access to markets, but they have to follow internationally approved pathways. And there is no discussion. “Disease control functions like that and people must understand that,” he added. Dr HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼bschle is also mindful of the fact that there has been movement of people across the border for over 100 years because Namibians have relatives on the other side, which would make it unfair to cut them off. Apart from such movement of people, around 70 000 cattle from Omusati and Ohangwena graze in southern Angola when the northern areas are dry. It is common knowledge that the NCA are FMD free and Namibia does not yet have approval from the World Animal Health Organisation, which sets guidelines that enable countries access international trade. Because of the red line, animals in the northern communal areas go through cumbersome processes before they can be auctioned. The livestock are quarantined for 21 days, during which farmers have to pay for their fodder, while after slaughter, the frozen meat is quarantined for a further 21 days. Farmers say not only do their animals lose body mass, but they also pay lots of money to transport their livestock to the quarantine facilities. Apart from this, many farmers in the areas still have a traditional approach to cattle and do not see them as of economic value. Despite holding more than a million heads of cattle, the off take from these areas is less than three percent compared to an off take of 25 percent south of the fence. Statistics concerning the throughput to the abattoirs in Oshakati and Katima Mulilo on the one hand and Windhoek and Okahandja on the other indicate that more livestock is sold south of the fence than in the north. According to Meatco, the Oshakati abattoir in 2003 slaughtered 6 585 cattle and 3 864 in 2004, while Katima Mulilo slaughtered 9 623 and 5 923 in 2003 and 2004 respectively. Windhoek and Okahandja slaughtered 66 831 and 75 662 in 2003 respectively and 87 747 and 64 558 cattle respectively in 2004. To increase the off take in the areas, the cattle incentive scheme for the north gave farmers N$1 per carcass kg for all A, AB and B grades and 80 cents per kg carcass mass for all C grades sold at the Onyuulaye auction in the north. The scheme was a once-off thing but according to the Meat board, there are good indications it might be continued once details are finalised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.