15 March 2019

Namibia: Food Shortages to Hit Some Households

Several constituency councillors yesterday said most households in their areas have run out of food, and have resorted to begging.

The councillors' comments come after the agriculture ministry said most households in crop-producing regions would have no food by the end of May this year.

According to the report titled 'Agricultural Inputs and Household Food Security Monitoring Assessment', the affected regions are Zambezi, Kavango East, Kavango West, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto.

The agriculture ministry compiled the report last year, and released it on 14 January.

The councillor of the Mankumpi constituency in Kavango West, Lukas Muha, told The Namibian that some households in his region are going hungry.

Muha said he sometimes buys food for the people when he goes on routine visits in the villages. So far, he has visited five villages where people are experiencing hunger.

"As for the San community, honestly, wherever I go, they will just be surrounding the car begging for food. It is a very serious case. I went to the storeroom where we store food. There is no food there," he explained.

Muha added that the empty storeroom forced him to buy a 50kg bag of maize for the few hungry people he met at Mulemba. He also said he plans on getting another one for people at Etenderero.

The councillor, who said there was no drought relief food being distributed in his constituency at the moment, urged the government to intervene immediately.

"I went into the villages for a birth certificate programme. Instead of them listening to me on the birth certificate issue, they asked about the drought," he added.

On whether they had communicated the people's plight with the Office of the Prime Minister, Muha said regional councillors will compile a report, and give it to the chief regional officer. The regional officer then communicates with the OPM.

Johannes Karondo of the Kapako constituency in Kavango West said some households in his constituency had not had food since the end of 2018, and some people had been waiting for drought relief since December last year.

The Kabbe constituency councillor in the Zambezi region, John Likando, said they were assessing the situation up to the end of March.

The councillor of the Aminuis constituency in Omaheke, Peter Kazongominja, said the situation is dire with regards to food and water for livestock, despite people having received drought relief food from the government.

"I am currently at Leonardville distributing maize, which was provided by the central government. There are more than 9 000 households, and we received about 30 000 bags of maize. Each household will receive a bag every month," he explained.

Kazongominja said he was communicating with Nafau regarding plans to distribute fodder to households that have 20 or more livestock.

In the Erongo region, commercial farmer Cashbox van Wyk said the situation is "very bad", and that both game and cattle are struggling to survive.

"We are trying our best to maintain the cattle. Many commercial farmers have sold off large stock, and others are pen-feeding their animals. Game such as zebras are skinny and dying. Even the oryx are dying," he stressed.

He said, there was a little rain in isolated areas, but that was not enough for the grass to grow.

"It's bleak. We here in the west are still hopeful because we get late rains and then the grass can still grow, but the guys further north do not have hope. It is like midnight for them," he said.

Van Wyk added that he was particularly worried about feed since they buy from the south, and there are reports that water supply to lucerne producers would be cut off soon if dam levels continue to drop.

"If they stop supplying water to these schemes in the south, then we'll be in trouble," he said.

Kennedy Upendura, a communal farmer at Omatjete in the Erongo region, said if it does not rain by next month, there would be big trouble.

"It's no joke. Animals will start dying," he said, adding that the earth dams are drying up, and the land is dusty.

Although there is groundwater, Upendura said, the animals need feed.

"We will keep the feed at our houses, and then the elephants will come. The conflict between us, our cattle and the elephants will become very bad as the drought progresses," he continued.

Upendura said in his Herero culture, it is better to watch the cattle die and keep the horns next to the 'holy fire' than to sell them, as the government is advocating.

"It will be very bad if it does not rain," he lamented.

Farmers in the //Kharas region who spoke to The Namibian said the recent showers in some parts of the region did not help much.

"The drought is crippling us. The grass is dry," said Aroab commercial farmer Koos Wasserfall. "It does not look good for farmers."

Another commercial farmer and businessman, Jan Gabriel Maritz, said the current drought could be worse than that of 2013.

"I wonder whether the government realises the vast impact the persistent drought has on agriculture," he stated, adding that if the agricultural sector collapses, it would have an adverse impact on the country's economy.

Because of the drought's financial impact, Maritz said farmers are also not able to offer casual jobs such as fencing of their camps because they are forced to spend the bulk of their income buying fodder to sustain their livestock.

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which deals with disaster management said not all households are part of the drought relief programme being rolled out by the government.

In their response on how the government is prepared to tackle the looming food shortage, the executive director in the OPM, I-Ben Nashandi, said they are aware of the food situation, and they are currently distributing drought relief food to 29 440 beneficiaries in some of the affected areas.

These include Hardap, //Karas, Omaheke, Erongo and Otjozondjupa.

However, Nashandi could not say how long the stored grain for the emergency purposes will last.

"We are unable to predict the period, as the relief is based on the climate," he added.

The Agro-marketing and Trade Agency, which manages grain silos, said the grain levels are currently at 72%, of which 43% is mahangu.

The agency's spokesperson, Meke Namindo, said they were still buying surplus marketable mahangu grain from the 2018 harvest.

On how long the current grain levels will last, she said: "It will depend on the number of people who will need food, but an exact answer will only be provided after a vulnerability assessment is completed."

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