10 January 2019

Namibia: Dry Sky Scares Farmers

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THE news from the Namibia Meteorological Service is not good, and some farmers across the country are scared.

Most regions, except the Zambezi, the meteorological service said, should expect below normal to normal rainfall from now until March, and then below normal rain until April.

A statement from the meteorological service forecasts a 25% chance for rainfall for the north-eastern, central and north-western parts during the period February to April; a 40% chance in the normal category; and 35% in the below normal category.

Chief forecaster Odillo Kgobetsi yesterday confirmed that the rainless streak in most parts of the country was expected to continue, except in the Zambezi region.

According to him, the temperatures are also expected to hover above 30 degrees Celsius in most parts of the country through this week alone.

Although some farmers are not aware of the weather forecasts, the dry sky is scaring them.

Commercial farmer Johannes 'Slabba' Motinga, who farms in the //Karas region's Helmeringhausen district, said he anticipated livestock losses due to the persistent dry conditions.

"We have received some showers recently, but we soon need more rain which would revitalise our grazing areas degraded by the persistent drought," he stated.

According to him, the weak rainfall pattern of the previous year's rainy season appears to repeat itself if rain is not coming soon.

"The previous year, we had a very weak rainy season. But at least this year, we have recently received some showers," he added.

Motinga thus advised livestock farmers to reduce their stock to become resilient to the persistent drought gripping the country.

"We need to guard against overgrazing by overstocking our rangelands," he warned.

In Kunene, a lot of farmers have already lost livestock.

One farmer, Kunamganda Ngorera (36) from Outjoue village in the Opuwo Rural constituency, said she fears that there will be another drought.

"We had a few cattle which survived the drought of last year. As I am talking today, we have lost seven cattle with three calves already. The goats are dying every day. We do not know what to do. We have no money to buy fodder for our animals. The future looks dark," Ngorera said.

Pedro Djau (52) from Omaovipanga in the Opuwo Urban constituency said his three cattle perished, and left calves behind.

"I am so shattered. The little money I had saved, I am now buying milk for the calves. I do not know if they will survive; I am just trying. The goats are dying every day, and fodder is so expensive. If only the government could control the prices, maybe that will help a bit," Djau added.

The chairperson of the Omusati Regional Council, Modestus Amutse, said the impact of the dry weather conditions is now being felt among the community, especially people who were expected to have started preparing to cultivate their fields in the northern regions. But due to the late rainy season, they sit idly at home, waiting.

He said close to 200 000 people are struggling to make ends meet due to a lack of food and potable water, while a quarter of the population may starve if rains do not come. About 100 000 livestock are affected by the drought, mostly in the inland, as the animals at the cattle posts are far better off.

"Most of the areas are still dry, and people are not coping, especially the ones who depend on wells, which fill up only during the rainy season. They are drying up now," Amutse explained, adding that their office has increased water points in comparison to other drought years.

According to the councillor, the region will luckily not struggle with food as they started a regional programme where they asked community members to donate surplus products from their harvests.

"These surpluses donated to our office is what we use to distribute to households who have run out of food. We have not yet asked for help from the government as we are still using what is in our storerooms," he noted.

In the Zambezi region, where the rainfall prospects are said to be better, some farmers maintain that the situation was still dicey.

The chairperson of the Likwama regional farmers union in the Zambezi, Alfred Chilinda, yesterday said both livestock and crop farmers in the region were finding the weather unpredictable, and were not so confident, despite the recent rainfalls.

"The fields of the farmers are looking good because of the little rain we are receiving now and then. However, the farmers are sceptic about climatic change because they are not sure how long this rain would last. This has resulted in some farmers not ploughing their whole fields last year because the rain also came late.

"Nonetheless, if the rain we are receiving now continues until March, the farmers will be expecting another bumper harvest this year. On the side of the livestock, we have seen that the water levels are still very low in the sense that the grass is only green on the lower grounds, and very dry on the upper land.

"Currently, the livestock of farmers are not in such good conditions. However, we are hopeful that if this rain continues to fall, the grass on the upper land will be green, and animals will graze on them," he noted.

Chilinda further urged farmers not to be discouraged by the uncertain rain patterns experienced in the region, and to continue plough and graze their cattle because if they do not, they might regret it later.

Kisco Mwanga, a farmer in the Masikili area of the Zambezi region, told The Namibian yesterday that the dry spell experienced is too severe for his maize crop.

"The dry spell has hit us very hard. Although we received good rains two weeks ago, the ground is parched because of the heat. As a result, some of my maize is getting dry already. At least I can say that things are looking good for my livestock because they are grazing along the river," he added.

Farmers in the Aminuis constituency of Omaheke region said they continue losing cattle every week. In November last year, councillor Peter Kazongominja told New Era that the constituency lost more than 300 livestock to the dry conditions in 2018. The Aminuis constituency is home to more than 8 000 farmers.

Kazongominja, who is a farmer himself and owns 150 head of cattle, told The Namibian yesterday that he has lost 35 head of cattle since last February.

"It is bad. As I'm speaking to you now, I just lost a cow and a calf yesterday. We have been searching for good grazing grounds in the veld, but the land is dry everywhere. We try to feed our weak cattle fodder. Some survive, others die," he lamented.

Kazongominja said that many farmers are forced to sell their livestock in the process. He said the suggestion by some leaders to farmers to sell all their cattle was an insult to the farmers.

"How can we sell cattle that are underweight? What value do we get from that?" he asked.

Kazongominja said he had tried to bring the plights of the farmers to prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila when she visited the region late last year but has not heard from her since.

Kuuongelwa-Amadhila could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Aminuis farmer Sacky Kamboo, who owns more than 120 cattle said he watched five of his cattle die this week as a result of the persistent drought. Kamboo said since the drought started in 2013, his entire family collectively lost more than 100 head of cattle.

"We, farmers at Aminuis, are in serious trouble. We no longer have a livelihood, we receive little to no rainfall. We lose cattle on a daily basis," he lamented, adding that the last good rainfall they received was 42 millimetres a few weeks ago.

Kamboo also said because the health of the cattle has deteriorated, they are forced to sell them for low prices.

"One healthy cow used to sell for between N$6 000 and N$7 000. Now I can only sell it for a meagre N$4 000," he said.

A Gibeon farmer, Petrus Axab Skrywer, from Ganus Pos has already lost 15 goats and five head of cattle.

"We received about 50 mm of rain, but there is no improvement. The rain only brought slight improvements. In early January, there was a promise of rain, for things to improve, especially farmers in the Gibeon constituency. The water is not a problem, only the fodder to feed the animals. One needs to spend about N$3 000 a month to purchase lucerne for the animals, but some farmers can't afford that amount and so tend to lose more animals."

* Contributors: Tuyeimo Haidula, Luqman Cloete, Selma Gumbo, Lugeretzia Kooper, Hilmah Hashange and Theresia Tjihenuna

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