Epalela farmers face serious water crisis

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EPALELA - Hundreds of farmers who eke out a living through gardening at Epalela are facing a serious water shortage. The Etaka Dam, which they have been relying on for years is now gradually drying up, threatening their livelihood.

The Etaka Dam, in the Omusati Region was created by NamWater as a reservoir to divert some water from the Angolan water pipeline, which supplies water to Namibia. Because of the huge size of the water pipeline from Angola compared to the infrastructure of NamWater, a valve was created to release water into the Etaka Dam as a measure to reduce pressure on the NamWater water pipeline.

The existence of the Etaka Dam has helped thousands of local people in the Omusati Region, including those who are into serious farming, to earn a decent living and to provide jobs to others. Some of the farms supply fruits and vegetables to local supermarkets and several local communities. One of the largest markets which depends on the Etaka Dam is in Angola. Apart from the loss of income for farmers, hundreds of people that also made a living as employees on the farms have lost their jobs.

“Today we have laid off 18 workers, leaving only two employed. There is no business. There is no work, we have nothing to pay them with,” said one farmer who claims that his profits have shrunk to zero. Farmers also claim that most of them have taken out bank loans, mostly from AgriBank, but now that the dam is drying up, they are unable to repay the loans since they can no longer produce. “Many of us bought our irrigation pivot worth N$300 000 with a bank loan. We just bought it recently, now we don’t have money to pay back,” said one of the farmers.

Farmers claim that NamWater promised to once again pump water into the Etaka Dam, but up to now nothing has been forthcoming. Lukas Tobias who is only an employee at a garden owned by the Roman Catholic Church said the pipeline which is used to pump water to the garden where he is working had to be extended by about 300m into the dam, but that did not help since there is not enough pressure to pump water to the garden.

“The people that have bigger generators maybe will be able to sustain their gardens a little bit longer, but starters like me, we are finished, unless something is done,” said Titus Paulus another farmer. Paulus said he had to extend his pipes by 400m into the dam, which is not helpful since he has a small generator. President Hifikepunye Pohamba opened the Ongwediva Fresh Produce Hub yesterday and it targets exactly small farmers like those around Epalela, who find themselves in a rather untenable position, just as it appeared that their fortunes were about to change for the better now that the fresh fruit and vegetable produce market is open.