Namibia Must Relook Value of Agriculture – Expert

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“Climate change is considered as something threatening the regenerating capacity of natural resources – then we should think of how to accommodate the 70 percent Namibians employed by agriculture”
By Irene !Hoaes

WINDHOEK

Namibia should reconsider its emphasis on agricultural production as a means of economic development, if climate change has to be taken into consideration.

“Climate change is considered as something threatening the regenerating capacity of natural resources – then we should think of how to accommodate the 70 percent Namibians employed by agriculture,” a local climatologist Dr Pierre Smit said.

Smit said water availability and accessibility is a major limitation to sustainable development in Namibia and depends on favourable weather for replenishment, both underground and impounded.

The Namibian environment is a crucial backbone of the national economy because the country is highly dependent on natural resources, in particular for economic activities related to the use of agriculture, wildlife and marine resources.

Greater aridity may increase grazing stress, deteriorate vegetation, produce losses in food production, increase pressure on water resources and reduce
arable land.

Conversely, wet periods may result in diseases such as malaria, increased floods and damage to infrastructure, while changes in land use patterns and soil erosion affect larger parts of the country.

The climatologist thus noted that climate change can adversely affect terrestrial ecosystems, on which the livelihoods of about 70% of Namibians
depend.

But even without the threat of climate change, Namibia faces absolute water scarcity by 2020.

The combined annual discharge in the rivers that Namibia shares with its neighbouring countries is 66 500 million m3.

The bulk of Namibia’s water needs come from groundwater and ephemeral water bodies.

Combined, the assured annual yield of water is about 500 million m3, which means a per capita water supply of less than 300 m3 per annum.

Smit said a moderate increase in evaporation combined with a possible 30% decrease in rainfall means severe implications, while the reliability of run-off will also decrease, creating an escalating sensitivity to inter-annual variation.

About 70% of the Namibian population directly depends on the use of natural resources and ecosystems, in particular through agriculture.

Smit noted that the predicted drier implications of climate change to the ecosystems that support rangelands in Namibia are multiple, adding that for example, when pasture reduces, productivity from livestock declines, while the health status of animals deteriorates and malpractices emerge.

“Moreover, the predicted impacts of climate change will have devastating effects on poor and marginalised people because they have little alternative to a subsistence lifestyle of rain-fed agriculture and direct use of natural resources,” Smit added.

He is of the opinion that during droughts and floods, lives, livelihoods, crops, livestock and infrastructure will be or is lost and the financial cost is well beyond the means of people, meaning that they are neither prepared for such events nor able to afford to repair the damage caused.

This is also evidence in the north of the country, where people are battling to get their lives back on track after the floods that occurred during this year’s rainy season.

On rangelands, widespread bush encroachment and invasions may occur and farmers may switch from large to small livestock, since the latter are better adapted to marginal conditions.

These changes may have important knock-on ecological and economical effects: Reduced useful biomass, a reduced overall development potential because of declining suitability and profitability, lower incomes, reduced food security, displaced populations and consequent migration patterns and widening gaps in income differences.

Smit said the Namibian agricultural sector can be divided into four sectors, namely what he calls the productive sector, subsistence sector, emerging farmers’ sector and the resettled poor.

Out of the four sectors Smit said only the first sector, mostly comprising of commercial farming, is really contributing to the country’s economy, although it is also not contributing that much to GDP as compared to what the tourism and the hunting sectors are doing currently.

Moreover, the commercial sector accounts for only 30 percent of the agricultural sector, while the non-productive sector accounts for the biggest chunk of the sector.

He said most of the emerging farmers are using their farms more as a weekend destination or keep it as a status symbol, instead of really producing.

“People are resettled for emotional sense of value, they are given land which they do not really use productively,” Smit referred to poor people who are given resettlement farms.

He charged that these poor resettled farmers are not really able to produce on a commercial level, as there are no support systems and incentives for them to make a success out of farming.

He noted that in most cases, these farms go to waste, as they are not really productive.

Smit suggested that a cooperative model be introduced where people work together as a group, supporting each other, thus making the initiative more powerful and effective.

Given this scenario, Smit said it is advisable to look at other options such as hunting and tourism, especially for subsistence farmers who are likely to be more affected by climate change and variations.

The tourism sector has been identified in recent times as a very lucrative industry that can make a positive economic impact on people’s livelihoods in the country.

The communtity-based tourism sector has been specifically identified as bringing changes in poor rural communities’ lives.

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