Namibia: Households face food insecurity

WINDHOEK - Many households in the northern communal crop regions may face food insecurity especially due to expected below average harvests on coarse grain production this year.

The slight improvement in the household food security last season will therefore not improve the food woes of many of these households who are already feeling the pinch of the past floods.

Reeling from last year's floods that already weakened their food reserves, most households have enough food to last them only until between August and October this year. Although Namibia is a food secure nation in terms of food availability through imports, access to food is a major constraint to most households, says the latest Crop Assessment Report.

According to the report, the impacts of poor food production and already soaring staple food prices are likely to hit vulnerable households the most that they will need food aid until they are able to regain their normal livelihoods.

Some households in the Ohangwena Region, which was the hardest hit by last year's floods, might deplete their food reserves much earlier as some farmers did not harvest anything.

"Besides some farmers did not harvest anything and consequently they are likely to be much more vulnerable to food insecurity," says the report.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry's crop assessment mission conducted in Caprivi, Kavango, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Oshana regions in May and June indicates that the slight improvement in the household food security is short-lived because of the poor harvests and weakened food reserves of the past two crop growing seasons.

Most farmers have indicated that due to the 2006/7 droughts and floods that weaken their food reserves in the past two crop growing seasons, the current harvest is only expected to last until end of September. The previous harvest was estimated to last until August, which indicates that this year's harvest went slightly up.

While Caprivi households indicated that their harvest would last them until August, farmers in the Kavango Region said their harvest would last until end of October while those in the northern communal areas have enough food only until end of September.

Floodwaters in Caprivi resulted in a cereal crop production drop by 13 percent of the normal production, with the flood affected areas expected to experience a drop in food production of half.

Forecasts for the Kavango Region are that poor harvests of at least two percent below the last season and 37 percent below the normal average are expected. Kavango also received average rainfall but most farmers' crop fields were flooded. Maize production showed a slight improvement of 13 percent above last year's harvest.

In the northern communal areas, the poor harvests result from the floods and heavy rains experienced during the second part of the rainy season. The four regions expect a below average production of 50 percent for Ohangwena, 46 percent for Omusati and 41 percent for both Oshana and Oshikoto regions.

Apart from the floods, quelea birds and the high prices of fertiliser added to the problems.

The birds caused significant damage to the crops and reduced their harvest while some farmers could not afford to buy the Mono Ammonium Phosphate fertilizer, which costs N$345 per 50-kg bag despite being subsidized by the government. Last season, farmers bought subsidized fertiliser packages of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium for N$50 for a 50-kg bag.

Estimates are that the grain production for this season will amount to 111 100 tonnes, which constitute 56 900 tonnes of white maize, 37 300 tonnes of pearl millet, 4 700 tonnes of sorghum and 12 200 tonnes of wheat, representing a slight improvement of eight percent compared to last year's harvest. A deficit of 32 200 tonnes of millet/sorghum is expected, which under normal circumstances is covered through commercial imports.