Bleak outlook for agri sector in 2016

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Windhoek

As a country in which some 600 000 inhabitants are in need of government’s drought relief aid and more than 42 percent of people are regarded as undernourished, Namibia is set to bear the full brunt of three consecutive dry years amid dwindling hopes of an above average rainfall season this year.

The agricultural sector – the breadbasket of the country – is under severe pressure at the start of the crop planting season due to erratic rains, while the livestock sector is holding its breath in anticipation of expected new import regulations from South Africa within the next few days.

Namibian rain-fed producers countrywide have warned of another dismal total maize production of only about 35 000 tonnes this year due to the erratic rainfall since November last year.

This would be a repetition of last year’s record-low production, which resulted in Namibia having to import more than 210 000 tonnes of cereal, mainly from South Africa. The difference is that drought is currently also wreaking havoc amongst South African maize farmers and the prices of white and yellow maize shot up to record heights last week in South Africa.

After harvesting a total of 70 328 tonnes in 2014, a shadow of gloom and doom has once again fallen over commercial and communal water-fed crop farming areas across Namibia. Fears are mounting that this season’s white maize and mahangu crops are bound for a dismal failure due to sporadic rains since November last year and in early January this year.

Predictions also do not bode well for late rains in February. Only some 35 percent of crops now being planted is expected at harvest time later this year. Reports from rain-fed communal crop farmers in the north convey the same message as for those in the commercial crop farming Maize Triangle, due to the unpredictable rains.

Chairperson of the Namibian Agronomic Pproducers Association Gernot Eggert told New Era yesterday that all is not lost for the planting season. He said producers have started planting cautiously as the rains so far have been sporadic and inconsistent to provide enough soil moisture.

“Some producers have received less than 80 mm and others close by almost 200 mm. It’s a dicey situation, as farmers have to make a decision whether to plant now or not. The input cost for these producers is about N$4 500 per hectare, and because of the huge risk indications are that less hectares will eventually be plannted,” he noted.

Good downpours in the days to come could sustain the optimistic mood in the Maize Triangle, but more erratic rains could destroy all hopes of a good harvest.

Concern has been expressed in all regions, except the Hardap district, where average to above average harvests of both maize and wheat under irrigation are expected.

The economic impact of poorer maize harvests – which are also expected in South Africa – is divergent and includes the possibility of more expensive fodder and a decrease in weaner prices as the feeding costs of feed lots increase.

Cheaper oil and petrol prices, however, might counteract the impact of the poorer harvest to a certaind degree. The APA is still aware of the pressure which will hit farmers who produce on dry land and emphasised the role of government in supporting farmers.

On the livestock front, Namibian exporters are eagerly awaiting the outcome of two years of deliberations with South Africa regarding the stringent import measures implemented by South Africa in 2013, which almost brought the Namibian industry – worth some N$1.5 billion per annum – to its knees.

The deadline for Namibia to react to South Africa’s new requirements was last Friday, January 8.

Chairperson of the Livestock Producers Association Mecki Schneider confirmed yesterday that the Meat Board, as coordinator of the bargaining process, has answered the South African authorities in full on the issue and an answer from the neighboiuring country is expected soon.

Namibia exports some 160 000 weaners to South Africa annually and the income derived from the trade is the essential to the livelihood of most emerging and communal farmers.

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