The most critical period for crop farmers in the rain-fed northern communal areas, October and November, which is vital for crop planting, has come and gone, casting doubts on the prospects of good mahangu and maize crops in May and June next year.
Northern communal farmers are worried again that they might not get a good harvest next year if it rains average or below average in the early rainy season. All predictions so far had forecast a slow start to the rainy season, but may conclude that most of Namibia will experience a normal to above normal rainy season from January to March next year.
Last week the first decent rains arrived in most regions in the north, but it went as quickly as it came. A follow-up rain is crucial for crop planting. The latest expected harvest report of the Namibian Agronomic Board predicts more than 1,080 tonnes of white maize from the communal areas of Omusati and environs with an average of 1.7 tonnes per hectare.
Namibia’s total white maize production is projected to be 40,024 tonnes come harvest time next July.
From December to January and March, mahangu farmers in the Oshana, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Kunene regions are supposed to be working in their fields. However, if this year is anything like last year, farmers may have to face another dry spell, which would result in the loss of more livestock and another below-average harvest season.
Because of the prevailing dry conditions and little rain seen in November, farmers are holding back planting mahangu. Some farmers are also concerned that even if the north receives good rain from now on, their donkeys and oxen used to plough their fields may still be weak due to the drought experienced in the region over the past three years.
Some farmers say they have been in regular contact with the elders who have over the years mastered ways of predicting whether or not there will be good rains. According to them, the elders are predicting good rains in the northern regions towards the end of this month or early next month.
People are concerned because some livestock is in poor health and unless the areas get good rains soon, their cattle might not make it to the new year.
Conservation Agriculture (CA) farmers say they are feeling the pinch as well after the Namibian Conservation Agriculture Project (NCAP) ceased at the beginning of last year due to lack of international funding.
Last year, 4,132 farmers registered for CA rip furrow services and it seems the numbers have dwindled after NCAP had to withdraw from the north after UN funding dried up.
There are currently 27 private service providers for rip furrowing and nearly all of them have started land preparation by now. Most of the tractor owners are Kongalend Financial Services clients, while some are Agribank clients.
The interest in CA remains high this year because of the recurring droughts and severe food insecurity. Many farmers witnessed positive developments in CA fields during the 2014/2015 season, despite low and erratic rainfall and many have since then switched to CA.
Farmers who have already tested rip furrowing or hand-hoe basins, crop rotations and soil cover (either crop residue retention or green soil cover) are in the majority of cases planning to put their entire crop fields under CA.
Picture: Planting season