11 May 2012

Namibia: Creating a Hand-Out Dependency


The national staple food for many Namibians - was listed a controlled crop (meaning its imports and exports are controlled) on 15 May 2008 by way of Government Gazette no 109.

Silos with 1 000 tonnes of mahangu storage capacity have been constructed in Namibia's north-central by the Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) to store nationally produced mahangu for national consumption and for food relief.

Through the Namibian Agronomic Board the GRN has begun to buy mahangu from smallholders to fill its silos. This was done without first offering comprehensive programmes to smallholders to sustainably increase their currently very low mahangu yields (among the lowest in the world) in order for them to have surplus to sell.

Procuring much needed staple food for a meagre N$2.70 - N$3.00 per kg from smallholder farmers, who very often only harvest 300 kg per hectare needed for their own consumption, is counterproductive and fuels dependency on food hand-outs.

As 49 per cent of Namibians live below the poverty line, many of them being smallholders, it is understandable that desperately cash-strapped farmers take the opportunity to sell their small yield for cash when the officers arrive to buy mahangu.

Chances are high that the very same smallholders queue up for the various food relief programmes later in the year when their insufficient mahangu storage that was left at household level is depleted.

Smallholders should have been empowered to firstly cater for their own household food security needs before being given the opportunity to sell to GRN.

As a result, GRN's introduction of mahangu as a controlled crop has not contributed to improve national mahangu food security, nor has it created any significant rural economic growth.

By ignoring the production capacity of the most crucial actor in the mahangu value chain - smallholder farmers - and by neglecting the need of yield improving programmes, GRN has effectively created a vicious circle of the same mahangu grain circulating from smallholders, into GRN silos and then back to the very same group in the form of food relief.

Furthermore, 1 000 tonnes of mahangu makes a mere 20 000 bags (50kg) of mahangu, a drop in the ocean for schools, NDF, and food relief programmes.

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