Planting on hold as the rains stay away

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-It is a wait-and-see game in the Maize Triangle, the country’s staple diet breadbasket with virtually a dry November and a rainless first half of December.

This has forced producers to put planting of white maize on hold in anticipation of good rains after Christmas. Hopes of reaping some 68,865 tonnes of white maize this season, as was predicted by the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) before the start of the rainy season, have also been dwindling.

An exceptional decline in white maze production in Namibia’s dry-land maize areas in 2016, as a result of the drought, was replaced with optimism after most weather analysts predicted much better rainfall this season. But so far the rains have stayed away and all hopes are now on forecasts of good rains after Christmas and well into the new year.

Chairperson of the Agronomic Producers Association (NPA), Gernot Eggert, says there is no reason for panic yet but the delay will sow doubt amongst producers as they have experienced great losses over the past few devastating seasons due to erratic and sporadic rains. Due to the nature of rain-fed maize production, producers have suffered tremendous losses as insurance companies are not prepared to insure these farmers because of the high risks involved.

The maize administrator of the NAB, Antoinette Venter, is nevertheless optimistic about a rather strong recovery from this year onwards up to 2020. The expected total harvest of almost 69,000 tonnes, if all goes well, is a great leap for crop farmers from the measly 46,000 tonnes they produced last year.

Maize consumption in the animal feed sector is projected to expand by almost 2% per annum over the ten-year period between 2017 and 2026. Demand for maize consumed as food is strong in the short term, as cash-strapped consumers switch to the cheapest possible source of starch. But in the medium term, as income growth recovers, maize food demand stagnates due to substitution into alternative starches such as rice and bread.

Namibia’s 2015 and 2016 maize crop was some 40% lower compared to 2014’s (above-average) output, according to figures released by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). It notes that around half of all dry-land commercial farmers experienced total crop losses as a result of the drought. Maize production in the communal area (Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West regions) showed a slight improvement of about 2% in 2016, but is 62% below the average production. Similarly, maize harvest prospects in the commercial area indicate a slight improvement of 2% higher than in 2015 but is 35% below the average production.

Mahangu (pearl millet) production showed a significant improvement of 46% since 2015 but is 39% below the average production. Sorghum production showed a negative outlook with its harvest expected to drop by 68% below average, and 17% lower than in 2015. This improvement is based on the good crop germinations reported in Omusati, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Kavango East and Kavango West regions.

Intentions to plant were lower than previous years as local producers have been exposed to adverse droughts the past four years. This had a tremendous effect on the producers’ financial ability to be exposed to such risks again, says Namib Mills and Namib Poultry CEO Ian Collard.

A weak overall harvest will translate into Namibia having to import some 140,000 to 160,000 tonnes of maize to fill the gap in the market due to poor rainfall in the current planting season.

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