27 April 2012

Namibia: Agriculture Exposes Its Own Inconsistency

A FULL-PAGE advertisement placed by agriculture permanent secretary Andrew Ndishishi in local newspapers last week to rebuff concerns raised by conservationists omitted some facts.

Ndishishi attempted to justify the ministry's alleged reluctance to implement conservation agriculture, for which it had hired consultants to come up with a model.

The bone of contention is the usage of ripper farrowing for dry-land crop production by subsistence farmers in the northern regions, which conservationists say has produced good results in six years of trials.

The ministry has defended the usage of disc harrows imported from Brazil, which reportedly cost around N$30 million, to mechanise Green Scheme projects and dry-land crop production by subsistence farmers.

Ndishishi is playing down the acquisition of tractors, seed planters and disc harrows from Brazil without public bidding.

His aim is to fully mechanise land tillage, suggesting that the success of the equipment was testimony to successful agriculture in Brazil.

Contrary to Ndishishi's assertion, the website of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has indicated that the mechanisation of soil tillage and the use of certain implements like ploughs, disc harrows and rotary cultivators have detrimental effects on soil structure.

"This led finally to movements promoting conservation tillage, and especially zero-tillage, particularly in southern Brazil, North America, New Zealand and Australia. Soil erosion resulting from soil tillage has forced us to look for alternatives and to reverse the process of soil degradation. The logical approach to this has been to reduce tillage," the website says.

Ndishishi said the ministry is implementing conservation agriculture with the support of the FAO while the organisation shows that disc harrows are minimally used in Brazil.

In 2010 the ministry also stated that it had taken steps to introduce tractors drawing rippers, planters, and fertiliser applicators that would lessen farmers' dependency on manual labour.

That also reflects the about-turn the Government has now taken.

"Furthermore Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a new concept which focuses on the use of rippers. Rippers loosen soil compaction caused by various factors to allow better root soil penetration," a media statement issued by the ministry in 2010 said.

It was further reported in Agrifocus last year that a deputy director in the Ministry of Agriculture, Berfine Antindi, said at conservation tillage seminar that the Government is ready to embrace CA and applauded Contill (the Conservation Tillage project) for the invaluable job it has done.

"Government has no intention to take over the show and there is room for everyone to participate." Antindi was reported to have said.

The Namibian has also seen email communication from one of the directors at the Agriculture Ministry, which reveals bad blood between the ministry and conservation agriculturists.

According to Ndishishi, the Ministry had in the past employed an approach of procuring tractors and implements through private local agents but have experienced delays of up two years.

" As a result, Brazilian implements were obtained at a relatively competitive cost." Additionally he said in a statement that Brazilian companies supply implements in semi-knocked-down state and will later supply them wholly knocked-down for the August 26 company to assemble.

"Not only will this arrangement create job opportunities but will create opportunities for Namibians to acquire technical skills in assembling," Ndishishi said in last week's advert.

Another inconsistency in Ndishishi press statement in the government-funded New Era on April 11 is that government silos are full of grain while the paper's headline of the same day says the opposite.

Quoting a report from the Ministry's Early Warning Unit, the New Era report indicated that the country needs to import more grain to offset a deficit of 191 400 of the 332 800 tons needed to meet the country's cereal consumption.

In addition Agriculture, Water and Forestry Minister John Mutorwa wrote in a submission to Cabinet in February this year that the "local stock of maize has been exhausted" and both the public miller at Etunda and private millers had to import maize from neighbouring countries.

There is also a glaring discrepancy in the storage capacity of government silos, which Ndishishi indicated to be 11 000 tons.

Minister Mutorwa had told his Cabinet colleagues that the storage capacity is 14 000 tons.

Government has silos at Katima Mulilo with storage capacity of 6 000 tons, Rundu with 4 000, Omuthiya with a capacity of 500 for mahangu, Okongo 500 for mahangu and Tsandi with 3 000 tons storage capacity.

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