Namibia: No drought disaster yet

By Petronella Sibeene

WINDHOEK - The current crop and food situation for 2006/7 does not warrant declaring a "drought disaster" despite poor yields, says a report.

The Namibia Early Warning and Food Information Unit (NEWFIU) Report released last Friday by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry says although the past year's rainy season was generally dry, most of the affected areas do not require emergency food assistance for drought-affected villagers.

The report explains that following a good 2006 cereal harvest, those threatened by possible hunger could survive from sufficient carryover stocks and alternative orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) food relief and other income sources such as pension, remittances and piece work. But on the contrary, the report says, the poorest households may quickly deplete their household supplies and will be unable to meet their food needs up to the next harvest period.

"Although the country is generally hit by drought conditions this year, the national food situation remains generally stable with fewer areas of food insecurity. Many households are able to meet their food needs from this year's harvest," the report says.

Domestic cereal production in 2006/7 is estimated at 114 100 tonnes.

From this, 52 100 tonnes are white maize, 44 500 tonnes are pearl millet, 4 500 tonnes are sorghum and 13 500 tonnes comprise winter wheat.

Cereal import requirements for the 2007/8 marketing year are estimated at 132 699 tonnes of which 89 400 tonnes are expected to be imported commercially with a deficit of 43 200 tonnes.

Compared to the 2005/6 farming season, production for 2006/7 is lower by 40 percent.

Namibia's green belt area - the principal communal crop growing regions of Caprivi, Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto regions - has suffered poor harvests due to poor rains, prolonged dry spells, high temperatures and an outbreak of pests such as the red-bellied quelea birds, at critical stages of crop development. The pests reduced the yields by 10 percent.

Coping activities for poor households, the report recommends, could include casual labour, production and sale of alcoholic beverages, consumption of wild fruits, sale of livestock, handcrafts and firewood, and charcoal burning, fishing and hunting.

Meanwhile, animal farmers are likely to feel the drought situation more as the report warns of poor pastures.

Farmers are encouraged to consider culling and selling old and non-productive animals to avoid losses which might be inevitable in the coming few months.

"Impacts on livestock watering holes and grazing lands could be significant as the dry season progresses (August/September), and this would decrease value and increase morbidity and mortality in small stock and cattle in particular," the report warns.

Already, in areas such as Kunene, farmers have moved thousands of cattle to other regions in search of grazing.

Swapo Regional Coordinator for Kunene, Samtaca Katjizemo, revealed that the drought situation in the region is extremely worrisome.

Most animals are already in poor condition, a situation urgently calling for drastic action that would put emergency measures and mechanisms in place.

"Political leadership needs to be informed, sensitized and invited to the region to acquaint themselves with the situation on the ground, particularly the President of the Republic of Namibia," he said.

Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo, in his ministerial statement yesterday said his ministry and the Emergency Management Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister are busy with a case study to submit to Cabinet to be deliberated on and pronounced later.

He added that government is aware of some unusually poor grazing conditions in some localities in the country.

Iyambo further noted that the current drought situation does not warrant that government declares a national drought but rather recognizes that certain localities in the country will face food shortages, insufficient grazing and water shortages.

"Communities' cooperation by doing what government recommends will be vitally important when government addresses the needs in these particular localities," he said.