EPUKIRO – The worst drought the country has experienced in the past 30 years has wreaked havoc in Epukiro, killing scores of cattle and small stock such as goats and sheep pushing livestock prices to an all time low.
The very survival the farmers is now at risk, because many of them depend on the milk and meat of their livestock. The Omaheke Region also known popularly as ‘Cattle Country’ is home to the majority of cattle farmers in the country. The current drought has forced many farmers in the area to sell some off part of their herds in order to buy feed for their remaining livestock. Scarcely any grazing remains in the area. The Epukiro regional councillor, Muhape Kaukuata- Mbura has also confirmed the worsening drought situation and its devastating impact on the farming community in the area. “The drought is biting very badly. If it does not rain between now and December we will be in for an extreme disaster,” said a highly concerned Mbura.
New Era visited three of the hardest-hit villages last weekend. At Kalpan, Okomumbonde and Omaweyozonjanda about 160km from Gobabis, locals such as Matjituavi Tjerivanga said the drought has affected many farmers in the region and this has forced some of the cattle farmers to even give up farming alltogether to move into the towns in search of better prospects. “Most of the young farmers in the area have moved to the towns for betterment of their lives since they could not a make a living out of livestock farming anymore,” he said.
Tjerivanga said if it does not rain in the next few weeks then farmers will start feeling the real impact of the drought. “I am sure that by that time the chances of survival will be limited,” he reiterated. Tjerivanga pleaded with the government to look into what he described as an unfolding natural disaster in the region on an unprecedented scale and scope. “There will be job losses, many people will be sleeping hungry and there will be no celebration of Christmas,” he said. Many farmers have stopped bothering to report stock losses, which has become a frequent activity. Benestus Hikuama, a local Livestock Tracessability Control Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry at Epukiro, said he has lost 3 of his 15 head of cattle. Like many farmers in the region, he and his family rely on the cattle as one of their main sources of income. They usually sell the cattle to buy food and to pay for the education of the children. “It is very tough, and the challenge is huge, cattle are dying everywhere,” he said.
“We try to feed them but they still die. Those that go far for grazing also die, because they are unable to come back for water,” he told New Era. Kareke Hangero his neighbour, has lost 6 cattle and over 20 sheep already. As a result of the dire situation, many desperate farmers go as far as buying cabbages to feed their cattle.
“It is painful to see your animals dying like that, we just hope the drought won’t finish off the remaining ones,” said Hangero. Pineas Siririka lost 30 cattle out of his 300-strong herd. “We are doing everything we can to save them from hunger, we have already spent a great deal of money buying boosters and livestock feed,” he said. “As I’m speaking now I have four calves, which collapsed and cannot even stand on their own due to their weakened condition,” he stressed. “We don’t have any choice, but to make sure that we try to save the remaining ones. If we don’t there will be hunger among us too. Most of us are unemployed, so livestock is the only source of income,” said Hangero. “Although we are slowly losing hope, we will try our best,” he said, trying to put on a brave face. Livestock owners in the Epukiro area say they have been forced to sell most of their cattle to other farmers at less than 10 percent of their original value.
They described the drought as the worst since 1986. Some farmers say they accepted offers of N$1 200 for cattle that used to fetch N$7 000. Four out of five families in the area finance their children’s education with money earned from selling cattle, according to the spokesman of the Ovambanderu Traditional Authority, Uazenga Ngahahe.
Some livestock owners resorted to harvesting grass along road reserves and collecting the leaves of trees to feed their cattle rather than lose them. New Era also spotted a group of men at Omaweyozonjanda (Pos 3), climbing trees to harvest the leaves in order to feed their cattle and small live stock.
By Kuzeeko Tjitemisa