Ovitoto farmers have lost over 556 livestock between February and April this year, among them cattle, due to the current drought.
They say the situation has become so dire that if government does not assist them they cannot imagine what would happen to their remaining livestock in the next few months. The drought-stricken farmers have pleaded with the Otjozondjupa Regional Risk Management Unit, the Governor of Otjozondjupa Region Samuel Nuuyoma and the Councillor of the Omatako Constituency, Issaskar Kaujeua, to introduce some form of subsidy to remedy the situation.
"Many Omatako constituency residents also face starvation. There is no food, no grass at all," said farmers in a recent statement. They say livestock prices have fallen so much that animals are now selling for as little as N$5/kg, which means that for a cow weighing 200kg which is the average weight, the seller would only get N$800 after deductions, whereas during a normal season, the going price for such an animal would be N$7 000.
Moreover, the farmers say they are forced to sell off cattle to meet other obligations such as paying off debts or loans for livestock and to sustain the remaining ones. They say producers are especially hard hit, because it is difficult to breed stock "when you are forced to sell at giveaway prices that are being determined by buyers".
The farmers further say there is a lack of understanding from the side of government when they offer farmers N$400 for each animal sold.
"That amount can hardly buy a bag of fodder," the farmers complain. The farmers, mostly from Otjongombe, Okamboro, Oruuua and other communal settlements in the Ovitoto area, have apparently started driving their livestock to places where a little more rain may have fallen as the situation becomes intensely desperate in the region. The farmers say their animals have reached corridors along the national road between Windhoek, Okahandja, Otjiwarongo, Omusorakuumba, Ombujotjimbari, Hochfeld, Otjozondu, Okepau and corridors within the Omatako Constituency in search of grazing.
"The meat industry is also suffering on quality meat for own consumption and export," they say. According to the farmers, although the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Prime Minister's Office (Drought Relief Programme) and the Otjozondjupa Regional Office sent an assessment team to review the situation in the region, particularly in Ovitoto, they need the government to intervene urgently and without delay to rescue the situation.
The farmers propose that commercial farms, state-owned land and drought relief farms be made available for grazing, that government subsidise the transportation of animals to where grazing is available and that government avail state-owned lands that are under-utilised or put aside for drought relief. They also ask that government revisits the resettlement programme to accommodate those who have proven to be serious emerging farmers who cannot afford land; that government purchase farms for those in the worst affected drought stricken areas; that the state extend de-forestation and de-bushing programmes and explore possibilities for extra supply of water to places where grazing might be available or under-developed.
It is not the first time that farmers in drought-stricken areas have requested government assistance. Farmers in the Omaheke Region have also requested a fodder subsidy from government, but government says it cannot afford to buy fodder for each and every farmer.
Approached for comment, Gabriel Kangowa, Deputy Director of Risk Management in the Prime Minister's Office said President Hifikepunye Pohamba was clear that government could not provide fodder to all farmers.
"The only thing we encourage them to do is to sell. Even the chiefs in the regions know about that," he said. Kangowa further said that they were providing food to all 13 regions and requested that chiefs and regional councillors inform the Prime Minister's Office about the most critically affected areas while they wait for bigger programmes to alleviate the situation. "Government is looking after people's lives," he said.