A desperate plea to government for increased subsidies rang out from the Katutura Expo yesterday when communal and emerging farmers called for an agricultural revolution to ensure the future of the agricultural sector in the economy.
Speaking on behalf of communal, emerging and commercial farmers from various regions, top Brahman breeder and prominent businessman Justice Tjirimuje said government’s “very reactive planning system” pertaining to agriculture and water supply is threatening the sustainability of especially communal and emerging farmers in extremely tough times.
Tjirimuje says it is common knowledge that 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture. “Yet we do very little to reduce the dependence on subsistence farming,” he lamented.
Government should urgently relook its policies pertaining to this crucial sector of the economy that contributes around 5 percent to the country’s GDP and that with herding supports between 25 percent to 40 percent of the population.
“Agriculture feeds the nation, yet government’s crop farming and livestock policies have been described as ‘doomsday practices’. Government knew from the mid-1990s that croplands in north-central Namibia and grazing lands in most communal livestock production areas are used unsustainably.”
Raising his concerns about the government’s drought policy and strategy and especially its drought fund, he bemoaned government’s non-pro-active approach, “knowing full well that Namibia is a drought-prone country”.
“There are indications that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry will have to review the drought policy and strategy this year. We can’t wait any longer. Government must now spell out its intentions with the agricultural sector, which is also among the biggest employment providers. We need subsidies, we need assistance from government and everybody; agriculture is the backbone of the economy yet we treat it like some stepchild in these unbearable times where our borders are closed for weaner exports, which is the livelihood of thousands of communal farmers,” he fumed.
His remarks come at a time when the Namibian National farmers Union (NNFU) is gathered in Otjiwarongo at a leadership and stakeholders workshop where the key topics are the long-term strategy of livestock and agronomic sectors, land reform, the Meat Industry Act and drought policy.
Vice-president of the NNFU, Abdal Mutjavikua, who openly criticised government, stressed that some of the challenges and constraints facing farmers stem from marketing incentives not being decentralised and as a result farmers wait long periods for any assistance, while crop producing subsistence farmers do not benefit during droughts “as drought incentives go into the pockets of those who have access to resources and can afford land to rent and transport”.
“There is limited support for farmers in the northern communal areas,” he moaned.
Farmers, stakeholders, public policy makers and role players in the agricultural sector are attending the NNFU workshop where various issues around the drought and government’s drought policy will be unpacked and discussed.
Mutjavikua says the negative consequences of the new SA import requirements have led to drastic reduction in export volumes and massive losses of export revenue earnings for the country and entire sector.
“NNFU has urged that in the short run Namibia needs to re-engage with its SA counterparts to negotiate a revision of separate standard operational procedures (SOPs) between animals exported for breeding and those destined for feedlots and slaughtering,” he observed.
He says in the long run, government needs a complete turnaround strategy for the entire industry that transforms the sector from an industry-based sector towards the development of an agro-ecological system, where livestock production systems, aquaculture, forestry, horticulture and crop production systems form the pillars of the industry.