New Era (Windhoek)

14 February 2013

Namibia: Lean Times Ahead for Farmers

High feeder prices and huge financial losses, as a result of poor and diminished grazing largely due to erratic and unseasonably low rainfall throughout most parts of the country, will continue their stranglehold on the nation's livestock industry, the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) warns.

Concern is mounting across the country over continued low rainfall in some parts of Namibia and its potential impact on the country's livestock sector, as well as floods that threaten to inundate and decimate crop fields and turn out a poor harvest this year.

"We are expecting to run into difficulties," NAU Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sakkie Coetzee, warned this week, expressing the view of many commercial farmers. "Due to decreased grazing areas, farmers will be compelled to sell off their excess animals due to 'pressure marketing' and we expect this to increase," he told New Era.

He said many farmers might have to sell their livestock, especially in the dry areas of the country, bringing about a drop in prices, because of an inevitable increase in supply.

Coetzee said although there had been some 'patchy' rainfall throughout the country, most areas have not received enough rain. He said in the south and southeastern parts of the country farmers are the worst affected, compared to farmers in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs). "If the current dry spell continues without any rain it will have a cruel impact on livestock farmers, especially the beef industry," Coetzee said.

"So when dryness renders wide stretches of land unable to support cattle grazing, producers have to buy feed or send cows to town to economize on their fodder." Coetzee also expressed concern over the switch from traditional farming with small ruminants in the south, such as sheep and goats, to cattle farming, adding that this is having a negative effect on grazing which is only suitable for small livestock. The NAU represents the interests of mainly commercial farmers in the country.

The government is expected to carry out assessments on the grazing situation as well as the condition of water sources soon, before deciding on what plan of action to embark upon.

Meanwhile, the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) Executive Director, Olof Munjanu, appealed to government to put in place measures to mitigate the drought when it is declared as such. "The rainy season isn't over yet, but we must prepare ourselves for the worst scenario. The peak of the rainy season has passed, but heavy rainfall may still occur in some parts of the country in the coming days," he added.

"The government should without delay oil all support systems and machinery. The objective is to put in place a systematic and functional mechanism with trained human resources, a subsidy to the farmers, as well as drought relief food to both farmers and employees," he stressed. He also called on communal farmers to get rid of unproductive or sick animals in preparation for when a drought is declared in a specific area or region and to work in close collaboration with the drought assessment missions and provide them with all necessary information.

"We recommend that the farmers be better prepared for drought, rather than to be waiting for government assistance. They need to support each other and look at diversification options and the provision of fodder for their animals," he said.

"By adding new business activities to traditional farming, farmers will be able to survive the drought situation," said Munjanu.

He warned that the greatest impact of the drought would be felt by livestock farmers, who make up 90 percent of the agricultural sector, adding that if prevailing dry conditions persist farmers will not have adequate grazing to sustain their herds. The NNFU was established in June 1992 to serve as a mouthpiece for communal and emerging farmers.

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