Story by Helvy Shaanika
ONGWEDIVA – Looming drought in the northern regions is forcing increasing numbers of farmers to go in search of greener pastures in municipal areas.
The northern regions face an imminent drought following poor rainfall in January and February, which has caused many crops and pastures to wither.
Many communal oshanas have dried up and there is hardly any grass for their cattle, causing alarm among farmers in the northern regions. While the Ongwediva Town Council was generous enough to allocate some land to farmers to graze hundreds of cattle, the Oshakati and Ondangwa local authorities are not as inclined to be charitable and have invoked the law to keep farm animals out of the boundaries of the two towns.
They have warned farmers saying grazing cattle within municipal boundaries is illegal and and serious action will be taken against livestock owners or animals that stray into municipal areas. The threats however are not enough to deter desperate farmers in search of grazing for their livestock, because the towns are the only areas left where grazing for their livestock is available at the moment. Some farmers have taken to sneaking their livestock into the two towns after hours and during weekends when local authority officials are off duty.
Some of the cattle herders walk as far as 20 to 30km with their livestock in search of grazing in nearby towns. “We are so many here. Some people come from villages as far as Endola and Oupumako. Others are from the surrounding villages such as Okaandje, Eefadoukadona, Okatope, Oidiva, Onheleiwa, Onawa, Efidi, Omusheshe, and Omatando among others,” said Daniel Haukongo, a cattle herder from the village of Onawa. Oshakati public relations officer (PRO) Jackson Muma however maintains that grazing within the town’s boundaries is not negotiable.
He said all animals found grazing in the town will be driven to the local authority’s kraal where they will only be released if the owners pay a fine. “Yes, we understand the local farmers’ plight, but we as a town council, have the responsibility to protect the lives and properties of ratepayers and to keep the town clean,” said Muma. Spokesman for the Ondangwa Town Council, Lukas Salomo, amplified Muma’s warning saying apart from the fact that livestock cause road accidents and damage to property, Ondangwa town borders the Oshikoto Region where an outbreak of anthrax was recently reported.
He said the town council has been advised by health inspectors not to allow livestock into the town. “Our biggest problem are the pigs, they are such a nuisance. No one wants to claim ownership of the pigs. We announced during a community meeting held at Okangwena (location) last week that we are going to kill all the pigs that we find roaming the streets of the town. Maybe someone will come forward to claim ownership. And as for other livestock such as cattle and donkies, we will keep them in a kraal and we will fine the owners if they want them back,” said Salomo.
The Ongwediva Town Council on the other hand holds an entirely different view of the situation. According to the town council spokesman Andreas Uutoni, drought is everyone’s problem. Uutoni said that after the town council was approached by cattle owners from the surrounding villages it was decided that local farmers should be allowed to graze their animals in certain areas with conditions attached.
“They are here with our blessings and they are adhering to the conditions set for them,” said Uutoni.
He said one of the conditions is that cattle herders and cattle owners should confine their animals within the boundaries of the alloted land and ensure that their animals are attended to at all times. Moreover, they are responsible for keeping their animals from straying near any road. Livestock are also not allowed to graze after 17h00 or earlier than 08h00 in the morning. Unlike the towns of Oshakati and Ondangwa where cattle and other livestock can be found roaming the streets at all hours, there is hardly any sign of livestock in the streets of Ongwediva. Uutoni further said that the arrangement is a temporary one. “As you can see, the portion of land that we assigned for grazing is also getting finished by the day,” he said.