Windhoek — Farmers in the so-called Maize Triangle are holding their breath following the erratic rainfall since November 2017, wondering whether or not they would be able to meet the earlier projection of a 31,000-tonne maize harvest this year.
Earlier projections had indicated a total harvest of 69,000 tonnes of white maize for Namibia. Maize is a staple diet for many Namibians.
As prospects of regular rains after Christmas 2017 fall flat, a subdued atmosphere now grips the producers in the Maize Triangle area that stretches from Grootfontein to Tsumeb and Otavi. The areas are known as Namibia's breadbasket, as farms in the area produce nearly half of the country's maize output.
For this season, less than 800 tonnes of white maize are expected from the Omusati Region and environs. The central and east areas are now expected to contribute some 5,200 tonnes of white maize. Hopes are pinned on the Kavango Region bringing in a much-needed 21,388 tonnes, while the Zambezi Region is expected to contribute more than 4,500 tonnes. Hardap and environs (irrigation) will harvest in excess of 5,700 tonnes.
There have been earlier signs of recovery after consecutive droughts forced Namibia to import some 180,000 tonnes of cereal. In October last year, the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) predicted a bumper harvest of close to 69,000 tonnes for this season at the end of July 2018, but those figures are now seriously doubted as the rains stayed away at the beginning of the planting season since November. The producers' hopes of planting some 9,000 hectares are now dwindling as the planting season comes to an end.
"January 27 is regarded as the last day of successful planting in the Maize Triangle, provided we have sufficient soil moisture. This is absolutely not the case and many producers just don't know which way to go," said a worried chairperson of the Agronomic Producers Association (APA), Gernot Eggert.
"If it rains from today and we get consistent follow-up showers, they still stand a chance to reap a decent harvest. If they plant now and the rains do not come, it's all over for them. Another season of erratic and sporadic rainfall like in the past few years will mean the end of the road for most producers in the triangle," he said.
"At this stage, less than one-third of producers received normal rainfall last season, and the trend continues. That could mean a serious decline in planting and producers will only be able to contribute a drop towards Namibia's average annual white maize harvest of some 70,000 tonnes before the drought of 2013 struck," he lamented.
Eggert says the combined effects of the droughts since 2013 will prove just one too many for maize producers in the Maize Triangle who are all struggling with cash-flow problems. Input costs of producers on average amount to N$4,500 per hectare, and because of the dismal crops of the past few years, producers have already lost millions of dollars.
The same bleak picture unfolded in the northern communal areas (NCAs) where mahangu and maize crops dropped drastically to all-time lows and resulted in government forking out some N$110 million in drought relief. Namibia had to import close to 210,000 tonnes of cereal annually since 2013 and almost 70,000 Namibians were left in urgent need of drought relief food in 2016.
Namibia uses 150,000 tonnes of the global maize consumption of 840 million tonnes, and relies on South African imports of about 160,000 tonnes annually to supply its population of some 2.3 million.