27 May 2013

Namibia: Northern Farmers Face Grazing Crisis

Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT
A livestock carcass in Marsabit, in Northern Kenya, which has suffered prolonged drought (File Photo).

Livestock farmers in the northern regions face a serious challenge to ensure thousands of their cattle survive the unfolding drought due to the lack of grazing.

The nationwide drought has decimated most of the available grazing. According to farmers in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs) the situation is getting worse by the day and grazing in areas that farmers thought would save them is gradually decreasing. To worsen matters farmers do not have water for their livestock.

Two weeks ago, President Hifikepunye Pohamba told communities in Engela that the government would do everything in its power to ensure no human life is lost due to hunger, but there was nothing government could do for their livestock.

"As for our cattle, we can't help. They have big stomachs, they eat a lot of food, so we cannot provide for them. But as for the people I don't want to hear of a human life lost due to starvation," Pohamba said.

Two weeks ago, Pohamba declared a national drought emergency. Some farmers have however chosen to take their chances by hanging on to their livestock mainly due to cattle prices that have dropped significantly, despite calls for them to sell in order to cut their losses. "My cattle are still fine, but Oshakati and Ongwediva towns where we used to graze our animals are also now overgrazed. At the moment, I am considering moving my cattle to the Okatjali area in the desert.

"I understand grazing is not bad there, but there is no water and the little water in that area is too salty for the animals," said Theophilus Protasius, a farmer in Ongwediva Constituency.

Another farmer, Julius Petrus from Outapi in the Omusati Region says he is cognisant of that fact that there is nothing much that government can do, but urged government to consider providing salt and water for livestock in the remote areas that still have better grazing.

Meanwhile, the Councillor of Okatjali, Joseph Mupetami, says many farmers flocked to the constituency with thousands of cattle and as a result the area does not have any grazing left.

Fortunately no livestock losses have occurred so far in the area, according to him, and villagers are working hard to ensure that their animals have enough water to drink by digging wells. "Our communities do not like getting handouts, so instead of getting drought relief food for free, they are digging wells and receive food for work. This is the initiative of the community itself, even the people that are in dire need want to earn their food. But I am urging the directorate of rural development to extend the water pipeline from Okadhiya to Iitopola, which is about 8km away," said Mupetami.

According to the Crop Assessment Report of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, poor grazing conditions are threatening livestock in the country as drought conditions intensify and some farmers are reported to already have lost some of their livestock. Based on the report, poor grazing conditions were initially reported in the Kunene and Omaheke regions where grazing for livestock was already scarce since most water reservoirs did not get refilled due to poor rainfall this year. "Poor pasture conditions were reported in the Otjozondjupa Region, especially in the Grootfontein area mainly during February leading to the emergency marketing of livestock," reads the report. So far over 4000 livestock have died as a result of the drought.

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