Some farmers in the northern communal areas (NCAs) who are unable to afford stock feed have out of desperation started feeding their livestock cardboard to prevent the animals from succumbing to the drought.
This unusual practice is prevalent in the town of Omuthiya in the Oshikoto Region, and community members can be seen driving in cars from one rubbish dump to another in a frantic search for cardboard boxes to feed to their livestock.
And in the early hours and late afternoon rows of cars can be observed within the vicinity of the skips and rubbish bins around town, with residents aiming to be the first to collect the cardboard boxes disposed of in the containers. Farmers apparently remove the tape from the boxes because once ingested tape can kill an animal.
It has become such a commodity among farmers in the surrounds that competition for the boxes has arisen, and some farmers have resorted to courting employees at shopping complexes to reserve boxes for them.
New Era caught up with a 64-year-old farmer, who hails from Omalindi, some four kilometres north-west of Omuthiya. He travels daily to town just to collect what boxes he can, which he uses to feed over 300 goats, donkeys and a few cattle, which are visibly healthy and fit.
Philuppus Lungameni says he has been feeding cardboard to his animals for the past three to four years, adding that the boxes have not caused any illness to his livestock.
He says his livestock have now become so used to being fed on discarded boxes that the animals usually wait under trees for him to return with the unusual feed.
Lungameni took this reporter to his village to see how he feeds his animals, and surprisingly upon seeing the vehicle approaching the animals ran towards the car sensing it was carrying cardboard. Lungameni summed up the situation thus: “When they see the car approaching they know their lord has arrived to feed them.”
Lungameni said his animals solely survive on the boxes “and nothing else” since the drought started, thus he has since built a storage facility where boxes are kept.
“My wish is only that someone could come up with an idea on how to package and mix the boxes with some other nutrients, then this would be the best feed. If it were not for these boxes by now I think all my livestock would have long been gone,” he said, adding that he feeds the animals with the help of his wife Loide, as they do not have a cattle herder and some of their children are in school and others work in different towns.
It has also become common for livestock in the NCAs to scavenge on rubbish dumps.
Meanwhile, the deputy state veterinarian Dr John Shoopala said it is not advisable for any farmer to use cardboard as animal feed because it has not yet been scientifically tested whether it is healthy for animals.
“These are foreign materials to the animal’s body and they are without any nutritional value. Something that a farmer thinks is fit for animal feed should be evaluated first by a veterinary official to determine whether it contains any nutrients and to ensure it is chemical-free. They should take note that whatever they do can affect the animal’s digestive system and cause blockage, especially if plastics are consumed,” Shoopala cautioned.
“There is no point for people to do things of which they are not aware of the consequences. Instead, they should consult for technical advice – we have offices countrywide where they can do so. Otherwise, it’s totally inadvisable to feed boxes to animals,” he added.
Shoopala sympathised with the farmers, acknowledging the looming drought, but advised them to take their animals to areas where there is still some grazing while waiting for the rains.