Windhoek — Agriculture has moved to the front of the priority lists for sectors that should stimulate the economy and create jobs in the next seven years.
President Hage Geingob made a rather surprise announcement that the government has "secured funding to implement the extensive Agricultural Mechanisation and Seed Improvement Programme". He did not specify the amount of funding obtained nor details of the exact nature of the programme but said it would be rolled out over a five-year period, from the second quarter of 2018.
Geingob, in his State of the Nation Address, said the successful implementation of the programme is envisaged to halve the percentage of food-insecure people in Namibia, from an estimated 25 percent in 2017 to 12 percent by 2025. The programme is also expected to lead to a reduction in annual grain and cereal imports from 60 percent of total consumption in 2017 to 20 percent by 2025.
"This initiative is expected to translate into thousands of job opportunities for rural youth. In addition, a number of transformational initiatives that will positively impact the agricultural sector have been introduced," he said. These initiatives include a collateral-free loan to enable communal farmers to access financing against payroll deductions. To date, 202 loans with a value of N$25.3 million have been approved within eight months of the launch. Currently Namibia's top seven horticulture fresh produce crops are potatoes, onions, cabbages, carrots, green peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. However, the country continues to import more than 70 percent of some of the produce from neighbouring countries. This is despite the fact that all horticulture products in the country are controlled products as gazetted in accordance with section 2 of the Agronomic Industry Act of 1992.
The Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) regulates the horticulture industry through the market share promotion scheme, which is implemented by Agro Marketing and Trading Agency. Yet NAB's report for 2015/16, which was tabled in parliament in October last year, noted a huge appetite for potatoes in Namibia and disparity between the consumption and what is produced locally. The local irrigation schemes and farms are unable to produce even half of the 26,706 tons of potatoes consumed on an annual basis.
During the 2015/16 financial year Namibia only produced 7,055 tons of potatoes of the 26,706 tons the country consumes on an annual basis. The rest, or 74 percent of local consumption, was imported into the country. The figures refer to potatoes sold in the formal markets, the NAB reported. Interestingly though the country did well when it comes to the production of onions, producing nearly 70 percent of total consumption, and exporting a significant tonnage of the edible bulb. However, the report went on to remind that the Namibian horticultural market is valued at N$678 million, and asked that efforts be made to reduce Namibia's reliance on imported horticultural products.