Ongwediva — Drought in the northern regions has caused many rice farmers to abandon their efforts under the relentless onslaught of drought.
Apart from mahangu and other indigenous crops in the north-central regions, rice farming which was developing as a niche in communal farming in those regions has also been affected with scores of farmers losing hope for this year's harvest. The University of Namibia's agricultural researcher, Simon Awala, said farmers mostly in the north-central regions planted rice this year, but when they realised that it had not rained, they gave up on their nurseries.
"We initially had 115 farmers but the number grew to over 300 farmers last year," said Awala. In a good season rice farmers normally harvest between 2 to 4 tonnes of rice on crop fields ranging in size from half a hectare to two hectares. These communal farmers often sold their surplus rice for N$18/kg. However, this year only a few are expected to harvest from their rice plantations and these are the farmers from the Epalela and Etaka areas, who have access to irrigation pipes.
Since the introduction of rice farming in the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Oshana regions, a number of farmers were able to produce rice even though it was mainly for own consumption. Also, a few were able to sell their home-cleaned and packaged rice to other residents.
Rice farming in the northern regions was introduced by the University of Namibia and currently research, training and extension work is being carried out by the Namibia-Japan Rice and Mahangu Project.
This project has carried out research to determine rice and mahangu species that would survive drought and those that would withstand floods or both conditions, in order to ensure food security. "There is a realisation that Namibia is challenged by both drought and floods, but farmers have no mechanisms to fight these conditions. The research was then carried out and two types of New Rise for Africa (Nerica) were discovered. The two types are drought resistant and they mature within 90 days, just like Kashana Number 1 and 2 (mahangu)," explained Awala.
Awala said unlike other rice species, Nerica crops do survive drought as they do not need standing water to grow, but as long as there is some moisture. At the moment, the Namibia-Japan Rice and Mahangu Project is busy multiplying Nerica seedlings that will be handed over to farmers before the beginning of the next rainy season.
In the meantime information sharing days, as well as extension work, is being extended to more interested communal farmers. President Hifikepunye Pohamba on Wednesday once again stressed the importance that government attaches to food production. "We want to see more local produce on the shelves of local supermarkets and on more local lunch and dinner tables," he said.
On the drought, he said government is closely monitoring the situation, while assessments are being done to determine the extent of this year's crop failure.