How Namibia supports its own food production

Across the country, the Namibian Ministry of Agriculture runs farms that boost food security on a dual track while attracting subsistence farmers to commercial farming.

Twamanguruka Nghidinwa, farm manager of the Sikondo Green Scheme irrigation project, one of six such farms in Rundu, near the Angolan border, explains: “We mainly produce maize [corn] in the summer, which is entirely sold to the government for the national strategic food reserve programme. The maize is stored in silos scattered across the country to provide free maize flour in times of drought when needed. It was very successful, especially during the 2015 drought.”

These farms in northern Namibia, where most of the country’s arable land is located, also grow vegetables, grown by subsistence farmers interested in commercial farming. They are invited to bid for 6 hectares (small farmers) and 20 hectares (medium farmers) under a five-year lease with the Namibian government.

Spinach and carrots on the Sikondo Green Scheme irrigation project in Rundu, Kavango Province, northern Namibia (photos provided)

Currently, the Sikondo Green Scheme irrigation project is supplying around 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes of produce to Namibia’s Agromarketing Trade Agency (AMTA).

On Green Scheme projects, farmers can grow their own choice of crops, usually maize, wheat, vegetables (nutnuts, gem squash) and watermelons on their plot, fed by irrigation from the Kavango River. The government acts as a service provider, Twamanghuruka notes, making equipment, such as tractors and plows, and inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals and seeds available to farmers for a user fee. . Farm managers like him who manage the commercial component of government, also act as mentors and provide advice to subsistence farmers.

After five years, the performance of the farmers is evaluated. Twamanguruka notes that the program has been very helpful in enabling farmers to move from livestock farming to agricultural production. He recently graduated with a postgraduate degree in international horticulture from the Leibniz University of Hannover.

Lima Kativa, agronomist and manager of the Hardap Green Scheme irrigation project, with Twamanguruka Nghidinwa of the Sikondo Green Scheme Irrigation project

Guaranteed loans for small farmers
“To ensure that farmers have start-up capital at the start of each season, the government has put in place an incentive that helps small-scale farmers access a loan from the government-backed agricultural bank (Agribank). “, he says.

“As a business unit that operates the farm, we benefit small and medium-sized farmers as we are able to market and sell all produce together to local outlets like the OK supermarket located in Rundu and Grootfontein. This helps us deliver products consistently and significantly improve our brand. »

“The Green Program policy aims to boost food production towards self-sufficiency and complement the national food security strategy. It was formerly supported by two state enterprises, Agribusdev and the Agromarketing Trade Agency (AMTA). However, due to a poor business model, Agribusdev was recently dissolved by the government, returning the Green System irrigation farms to the custody of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Green Scheme policy proposes that vegetables and fruit produced on these farms be sold to the Agromarketing Trade Agency (AMTA) which in turn supplies wholesalers, caterers, hospitals, military bases and government hostels in as part of the fresh produce distribution strategy. to regions of Namibia where climatic conditions are not always suitable for vegetable production, such as Erongo, Omaheke and Karas.

“The AMTA model worked well for a few years, but it faced many challenges in terms of supply chain and data collection. The AMTA model did not work as well as expected because farmers subsistence farmers (who are the majority) were not trained and lacked the capacity to switch from livestock to horticulture, therefore the volume provided annually was quite low and sometimes irregular,” notes- he.

Potatoes produced in Rundu, Namibia

Market protectionist measures
To protect the domestic industry from imports, the Namibian Agricultural Council first verifies the supply levels of certain vegetables among Namibian growers before a retailer receives an import permit under the Namibian Agriculture Initiative. Namibian market share promotion which was introduced almost 20 years ago with the aim of boosting domestic vegetable production.

The market share initiative requires retailers and wholesalers to source a steadily increasing percentage (32.5% in 2010) of their fresh produce from Namibia, before turning to imports from mainly , from South Africa.

Local and imported horticultural production from Namibia in 2018 (source: Namibian Agricultural Council)

“The Namibian Agricultural Council asks local growers if they have the product and if so they usually close the border to force retailers to buy local. It has become very specific about the crops we import, often in August and September, based on data retrieved from growers and retailers. »

South Africa exports significant volumes of onions and potatoes to Namibia; at the moment the border is closed to imports of onions but open to potatoes. The rest of the closures for other vegetables, melons and watermelons are available here.

There are years with a shortage of produce, he notes, as well as occasional surpluses of commonly grown crops like cabbage (an important protein substitute in Namibia) and watermelon in November and December.

A field of Namibian onions, which the country now produces more than it imports from South Africa

Most fertilizers and agricultural inputs arrive from Johannesburg in South Africa, a 1,780km journey that can take two to three weeks, in turn complicated by strict government procurement requirements.

He notes that the cost of fertilizers actually erodes their profits; transshipment of fertilizers between the South African port of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and Walvis Bay, for example, would be ideal.

Rainfed production has become very risky
“We have observed that the rain that used to come in October and fall until May does not come until December,” notes Twamanghuruka; he has been on the farm since 2014 and he attributes this to climate change.

“October has always been known as planting time for rain-fed crops, but for over a decade that hasn’t been the case and when the rains finally come it’s almost like compensation for the delay, we we therefore see that we have a lot of rain in January and February, sometimes to the point of becoming destructive and causing flooding, especially in the Zambezi region.

Subsistence farmers displaced by the prolonged waterlogging of their fields are increasingly common in the north, and this is sobering, he adds, especially since the majority of farmers in the country are farmers of subsistence.

“In the past, if all households engaged in the production of, say, millet or maize, there was a sense of food security. With the current situation and environmental degradation, we find that food security from a subsistence agriculture perspective is no longer sustainable.

Rainfed production has become very risky, he adds, and in the future, to ensure food security in the northern regions, the government should create policies to help farmers transition to semi-commercial farming. , with access to credit, irrigation and machinery.

The late onset of the rainy season is becoming a growing concern, as are the levels of water extraction from the Kavango River by Angola upstream; their northern neighbor has also invested in its agriculture.

“Water levels have dropped to levels we have never seen in the past.”

For more information:
Twamanguruka Nghidinwa
Sikondo Green Scheme Irrigation Project
Tel: +26 48 1679 7015
Email: [email protected]

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