Worsening drought in the Kunene Region has forced some farmers to drive out thousands of their cattle to other regions in search of grazing.
About 200 000 livestock alone in Kunene north, where the situation is critical, are at risk of starvation, according to Kunene Regional Governor, Dudu Murorua. He said between 1 000 and 2 000 cattle were already grazing in villages of the Omusati Region.
In April, two headmen from Okanguati and Ehomba, Thomas Suse and Uaaimwe Kakotokere, registered their concerns with the directorate of engineering and extension services at Otjisokotjongava about the impending drought in their areas in case no more rainfall was recorded.
The two headmen in Kunene north warned that all the neighbouring villages would face serious drought, affecting both people and animals, as not much was expected from the fields and there are no natural water reservoirs.
The situation is so bad that come August or September "I don't believe that there will be anything left from the current grazing," said Murorua.
A Kunene Region drought report for 2006-2007 that was compiled by the Chief Agricultural Extension Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in Kunene, Emily Handunge, indicates that both large stock and small stock unit mortalities were reported in Kunene north. Several villages, namely Otjikoyo, Otjiheke, Otjiu West, Otuvare, Onganga and Omungunda reported 38 deaths of large and 174 small stock.
She said the headmen that complained about the problem foresaw what was going to happen and feared for the worst.
But at the time, Murorua said, hopes were still high that more rain would fall, "but that did not happen and now we are stuck".
Murorua said areas in Kunene south, which could have provided relief for the animals, were devastated by veld fires from October to December 2006 and up to 10 000 hectares of grazing in the plains areas were destroyed.
In addition to this, most boreholes are in bad shape and cannot provide water for animals that graze there. This has resulted in farmers driving their livestock for at least five to seven kilometres a day to get to water points, said Ben Kapi, chairman of the Ngatuuane Farmers Association in the region.
Also, livestock have to compete for the same grazing with wildlife, which is said to have increased in numbers as well.
Farmers have proposed relief measures which include fodder for their animals, marketing incentives to encourage farmers to take off more livestock, drilling of emergency boreholes where there is no water, and emergency grazing on government farms that have not been advertised for resettlement yet.
The farmers propose that they be given 50 cents on every N$1 for every animal they sell and it will involve farmers selling male and non-productive stock for them to keep breeding stock only.
"One cannot allow the livestock to perish. We need to find ways on how we can assist the farmers to market their animals to keep the breeding stock only," added Murorua.
Due to cultural beliefs, most farmers especially the Ovahimba do not sell off many of their livestock. Handunge said although there has been some improvement in the way they sell their animals, especially nowadays when they sell to buy assets, more needs to be done.
"They need to sell to reduce their herds," she said, adding that even if fodder is provided it would remain difficult to cater for all the livestock in the area.
The governor said he was hopeful that cabinet would come up with proposals agreeable to the farmers that stakeholders would work on to find a lasting solution to the problem.
But considering the number of cattle that farmers especially in Kunene north have, the farmers will be on the move again in two to three months' time, if the government does not intervene in time.
Contacted for comment yesterday, permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Kahijoro Kahuure, said the ministry was also awaiting a decision from cabinet on the issue.