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Impotent response to drought

27 March 2013
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THE response of our Government to the terrible drought gripping the country has been pretty abysmal so far. It is unacceptable for the Government to claim that it is still carrying out an assessment of the situation.

 

Since December last year, thirst and hunger has killed off large numbers of livestock across the country.

So what is the Government still assessing?

It is not good enough for President Hifikepunye Pohamba to make a belated and rather lame statement – three months after the fact – saying the drought poses a serious challenge for the country.

His call for farmers to reduce their livestock also shows a poor understanding of the dynamics of subsistence agriculture.

For large-scale commercial farmers reducing the number of their livestock represents a prudent precautionary measure and sound management practice.

However, for subsistence farmers who maybe only have 15 cattle, or two dozen sheep or goats selling off their remaining stock means destroying their only means of livelihood.

The little livestock they have provide them with their only means to put food on the table, earn money to travel to public health facilities, buy other small necessities and pay school fees for their children.

The suggestion that they should sell their livestock is about as helpful as suggesting they should tie a rope round their necks and hang themselves.

The drought has hit crop farmers in many areas equally hard, and with the exception of the northeastern part of the country, farmers will experience well below average harvests.

The country’s chief hydrologist has already stated that the chances of an efundja from Angola have “become virtually zero”.

This is likely to have a severe impact on food security in the central northern regions.

At 7.3 percent, the contribution of agriculture to GDP in Namibia is relatively low.

However, this masks the fact that two-thirds of the country’s population live in rural areas and depend on agriculture, in one way or another, for their existence.

Furthermore, agriculture remains one of the country’s largest employers, employing 47 percent of the economically active population.

Mining on the other hand contributes 8 percent to GDP, but only employs 3 percent of the country’s population.

The biggest problem we face is that many of our ministers and senior Government officials are weekend farmers, who farm mainly as a hobby or buy farms as a status symbol.

They tend be dismissive of agriculture and regard it as an inconsequential form of economic activity.

However, only just over a year and half ago Old Mutual Managing Director: Africa Operations Johannes !Gawaxab had the following to say about agriculture:

“Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of Namibia. For Namibian and sub-Saharan Africa, economic development will be achieved through agriculture. Growth in agriculture contributes proportionally more to poverty reduction than any other sector of the economy.”

The response of the Government to the current drought has been tardy at best, but some would describe it as almost criminally negligent.

No human being is perfect, and it would therefore be too much to expect that we would have a perfect Government.

Nevertheless, we do have a right to expect that our Government learns from past mistakes and that it gradually improves the way in which it responds to national emergencies.

Instead, the response of the Directorate of Emergency Management in the Office of the Prime Minister to natural disasters – whether it be drought or flood – seems to become more incompetent with each year that passes.

Sorry to say, but President Pohamba’s recent comments about the drought display the same supercilious lack of seriousness as his statements about the Basic Income Grant did.

He said that the Government would not be in a position to provide fodder to the more than three million animals in the country.

No one has asked the Government to provide fodder to all three million animals in the country, but only to the most drought-affected, needy and desperate farmers. Just like no one ever asked for a Basic Income Grant for all 2,3 million Namibians, but only for the poorest of the poor and the most impoverished households.

We fully support former MP McHenry Venaani’s call for Government to show a sense of urgency and intervene in the tragedy unfolding in rural Namibia. We find it painful that our Government – that we elected – should respond to a crisis of this magnitude with impotence, inaction and hollow rhetoric.

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WINDHOEK OBSERVER

The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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