New Era (Windhoek)

21 February 2013

Namibia: Agriculture and Food Production

opinion

IT is absolutely important that the country enables and helps our farmers to produce enough food for the country and even surplus for export. In a country like Namibia which has difficult climatic challenges the country needs to help our farmers. Namibia's climate is difficult and challenging. Moreover there are also other problems that farmers are being confronted with.

To substantiate this let me just mention but a few of them: Namibia in most places where farming is taking place has unpredictable annual rainfall of about 270mm coupled with a high evaporation rate, therefore, it is largely an arid country. The climatic conditions dramatically change and this type of situation makes both crop and animal production unpredictable.

In most cases the farmers are forced to invest heavily in agriculture production just to be confronted with unpredictable rain and climatic conditions both for crop and animal production. When the climate changes and the rain does not come as anticipated, the crops don't grow or survive and the animals die thus negatively affecting agriculture output and cause heavy financial losses for farmers. Farmers are expected to buy fertilizers for their crops at high prices.

Those who farm with animals are expected to buy lick and body building substances for their animals. All these are expensive and are not subsidized. If the farmers fail to buy fertilizers the crops may not grow as expected and those who are farming with animals if they do not buy the necessary lick their animals may not survive properly on the grazing alone.

Although rivers crisscross the country they are dry for several years. The perennial rivers are very few therefore the country is dry most of the time. The animals for example can only survive from the water in the dams or boreholes.

The underground water can be pumped out at a cost by using various machines and equipment and fuel throughout the whole year. All these need substantial amounts of money.

In addition to these expenditures farmers are employing a big number of farm workers who are supposed to be paid an appropriate wage every month.

On top of the payment of wages to the workers the farmers are expected to supply food rations every month to their workers. In addition to this they are responsible for the medical care of their farm workers and the families of such farm workers.

Farm equipment such as motor vehicles, water-pumping engines, tractors, etc. need to be kept in working condition and be supplied with appropriate fuel at high cost.

Those who have electricity from NamPower at their farms are paying enormous amounts of money to NamPower on a monthly basis. Those who do not have NamPower electricity are forced to buy engines which supply electricity to the farms, which also require lots of money both for buying such engines and to maintain them in good order. Coupled with these also is the keeping of camp fences on the farm in good order.

The wires, poles, etc. which are needed for maintenance of the farm camp infrastructure are also not cheap but the camps must always be kept in good order.

Moreover, the animals must always be kept vaccinated and the vaccines are just expensive and they are not subsidized either. Failure to vaccinate animals as required may result in catastrophic results for the animals.

For the crop farmers there is always a need to buy various chemicals to protect the crops from being destroyed by insects. Wild animals can also be a problem for farming because for example animals like baboons can easily destroy the crops and other animals such as lions, leopards, jackals can kill animals.

These are just some problems which the farmers are confronted with in the country. To counter those problems the farmers need money and expertise. However, money is not easy to come by since things are simply expensive.

Therefore, the best way is to seriously put heads together and find a sustainable way to subsidize the farmers. It is proven elsewhere that subsidy programmers do in fact help all farmers, particularly small-scale vulnerable farmers to access fertilizes and seeds at heavily subsidized prices.

It is reported that for example in Malawi since subsidies were introduced the farmers have been harvesting between 500 000 and one million tons of surplus maize every year and that is above the national requirement for that country.

In fact the farm crops are not only consumed locally but they are exported - in that way they replenish the foreign exchange and help develop the country. It is time therefore to adopt subsidy programmes for all farmers to match those awarded by the Western governments to their own farmers.

By doing so the country cannot only produce enough food but also create much needed jobs for our unemployed people.

In addition to this sustainable programmes of de-bushing the land may be introduced to make more land available for agriculture. The wood that had been cut and removed through debushing can also be processed into charcoal and be exported to replenish the state coffers.

What will be critical here is also to build enough storage facilities to hold the surplus crops. These facilities must have the capacity not only to store the crops but the operators of such facilities must go out in the country and buy the crops from the farmers thus making it easy for farmers to sell their products. Such arrangements will motivate the farmers to produce more food.

It is indeed unfortunate and incomprehensible that instead of subsidizing our farmers the country found it necessary to impose land tax on farmers. It could have made sense if this land tax was only paid by those who have multiple farms or extraordinarily big farms and absentee land lords. But to impose land tax on all farmers does not make good and reasonable sense in the country, which ought to encourage its farmers to produce more food under the difficult conditions as, stated above.

The fact that there is a halfhearted tax exemption as regards this land tax does not help the issue and it does not assist farmers.

It was an ill-conceived and counterproductive measure taken against the farmers to introduce and impose this notorious land tax on farmers, while other countries even in the developed world are subsidizing their farmers.

Since this land tax is not an absolute necessity and an irreversible constitutional requirement it will be highly appreciated if it is abolished without further delay.

Other avenues can be explored to raise funds for buying land for resettlement and redistribution rather than getting such money from farmers through unwelcome and painful land tax.

It is laughable, ridiculous and silly to expect our farmers to produce more food for the country and surplus for export and at the same time impose on them unnecessary financial burdens which negatively affect their capability to produce effectively.

Finally, if we really want our farmers to produce more let us:

• Just like in Europe and elsewhere subsidize our farmers;

•Abolish the ill-conceived land tax;

• Build more storage facilities for excess food produce;

• Go out to farmers and buy their products on the farms or nearby points;

• Encourage more food processing industries in the country which will use local agriculture products by adding value to such products;

• Locally produce things such as fertilizers; vaccines and animal medicines;

• Seek new and viable markets for Namibian agriculture products worldwide etc.

To do what I have suggested above is not something out of this world. It has been done elsewhere, particularly in Europe. Why not here in our developing country? We cannot have our cake and eat it!

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