The Agronomy Department of AgriBusDev, the business arm of government’s agricultural development project, says the drought has had severe negative effects on irrigation farming over the past three years, during which the country has been suffering from consistent droughts.
The country is heavily reliant on surface water irrigation from its four perennial rivers (Kavango, Zambezi, Kunene and Orange), as well as Hardap dam and underground water resources in the Maize Triangle (Otavi, Tsumeb and Grootfontein).
These areas are highly vulnerable to drought, as the impact of irrigation on water supply are most significant during times of low water flow due to insufficient rainfall. As the country relies extensively on irrigation using surface water and underground water, this availability will likely diminish, as there is insufficient inflow into these rivers and dams.
“Drought has devastating effects on water supply for irrigation. The inflow of water into dams and rivers will be reduced and there will not be enough water for irrigation purposes, and as a result, farmers will be forced to grow crops that require less water, or crops that have a shorter growing period.
“Staple crops, such as maize, will hardly be grown as they require large volumes of water for growth. If this happens, household food security will be compromised, because we depend on cereals as our staple food,” reads an AgriBusDev research document on the effects of drought.
It further states that drought has both direct and indirect effects as far as crop production is concerned. During the periods of drought, crop production decreases, which in turn increases the prices of agricultural commodities (cereals, fruits and vegetables) and it affects demand.
In a country such as Namibia, farmers will benefit from higher prices, but consumers will be badly hit by such price increase and demand may fall due as a result. Farmers experience a steep increase in production costs due to drought, as low rainfall results in lower river levels, which increases the amount of energy (electricity) needed to pump water to irrigation sites.
In addition, input prices are known to increase sharply during drought events both for crop and livestock farmers. “During peak growth periods, irrigation water may not be enough and rainwater usually supplements this need, but recently that has not been the case, which leads to a drop in the yields from irrigated crops,” the study indicates.
“Low yields, both in terms of quality and quantity, have a damaging impact on income earned by the farmers, which can have knock-on effects on issues, such as loan repayments, and push farmers further into debt and expose financial institutions to risk,” the document reads further.
Droughts adversely affect the soil structure of farmlands, which in most cases in Namibia is already in a fragile state. The water retention capacity of the soil can also be vastly reduced by droughts and the soil organic matter and other micro biotic contents of the soil can also be damaged, leading to reduced fertility and increased soil-borne diseases.
This, by extension, increases the production costs for farmers, as more biological agents will be required to ensure healthy and fertile soils. Furthermore, the low and highly variable rainfall associated with droughts can lead to increased temperatures and shorter winters, which can in turn affect the growth periods of winter vegetables and other cereals, such as wheat.
Increases in temperatures can also affect the work of pollination agents, such as bees, and can impact negatively on crop production.