Drought forces communal crop farmers to become shoppers

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ONGELA – Anna Tukwafa Shonghela, Namibia Conservation Agriculture Project (NCAP) Coordinator, has only been working in this capacity for one year, but she is a formidable woman who knows more about the inhabitants and the environment than most people.

Speaking to her, it becomes clear that the drought of 2015 is one of the worst ever in the region. “The spillover effects of the 2013 drought is only now really catching up with the poor people in the villages where every cup of mahangu is worth gold, as it is the only guaranteed food security for them. What we see now is that crop farmers who until recently were able to supply at least for their own households, have become shoppers at Shoprite and other outlets that sell maize. This situation is unheard of but just proves how bad things have gotten in a relative short period because of the consecutive dry spells,” she notes.

She says in most of the villages there are no job opportunities and the level of unemployment is already very high. “The droughts drive younger people out of the villages because there is no employment, and when they see the dismal crop harvests in these dry times, they are discouraged to take up the hand plough and try and make a living at home.” Anna adds that these people have no money to buy maize, and most of them sold or lost the bulk of their livestock during the 2013 drought. Those that have livestock have no money for fodder and there is not a blade of grass on the plains as the rangelands have been seriously damaged and neglected. My people have started to push the panic buttons,” she says as she relates how the villages flourished in good rainy seasons.

She says communal crop farmers face many challenges, of which the most serious ones are soil protection and water harvesting, as well as rangeland management. She accompanied Farmers Forum to many maize and mahangu fields in the area, pointing out the obvious difference in plant growth, and eventual yields between conventional disc harrowing and conservation agriculture whereby ripping is practiced.

Anna is one of many advocates of conservation agriculture, which has proven in just a few years to increase producers’ yields by up to 1 500 percent, as witnessed last season in the North-Central areas.