We support poverty reduction programmes, which include subsidised food for destitute people living in urban areas.
At the same time, we support the creation of emergency programmes to feed and provide water for cattle and small stock of destitute rural farmers.
Namibia is not an industrialised nation, at least not yet. The majority of our population lives in rural areas, townships, villages and on subsistence farms. While modernisation plays a large part in where we are going as a nation, we aren’t there yet.
Cattle, goats, sheep, chickens, and small farms growing food that our people eat every day, are still very much a part of how people live in Namibia.
The front page of a local daily recently captured the severity of the cattle feed/drought situation in a photograph of a farmer feeding his cattle cardboard boxes. While the veterinarians and cattle experts can discuss the medical implications of this on the animal’s digestive system, we are appalled that it has come to this.
As people lose their animals on these farms in the far-flung regions of our country, they are losing all that they have. We can provide them food aid for a few months; that is if we can distribute the bags of maize meal, before they get rotten while sitting in warehouses. And then we can beg the world for more drought aid and see what we get.
Or we can support our village farmers to remain viable going forward, by keeping animals in their reduced herds alive until the rains come, and/or the situation changes significantly.
Revolutionary ideas are needed now, at a time when innovation and thinking outside of the box might develop new and viable solutions. We should consider the creation of national cattle and small stock farms to purchase animals at a fair price from ailing farmers, and in so doing help them to maintain their remaining herds properly. We then can use a portion of these animals to stock Food Banks in urban areas with fresh meat on a consistent basis.
These national farms can also sell some cattle back to rural farmers, who will be seeking to reboot their decimated livestock, once rains and conditions of greater animal feed availability return.
In his budget speech, Minister of Finance, Calle Schlettwein, said, “We have scaled-up allocations to the economic and social sectors to spur growth, job-creation and long-term productivity gains.”
Then, let government tangibly show a vast swathe of Namibians that they are a part of those long-term productivity gains and are not left out, by addressing their largest worry - the death of their animals and total failure of their crops.
Aside from cultural norms and dictates, there is nothing more basic to many rural Namibians than their ability to recover from drought and provide for themselves on a basic level, by maintaining their subsistence farms and their livestock.
In the government budget, there is N$499,24 million set aside in Contingency Provision. Let our masterminds of number-crunching get a programme together that provides for Food Banks for cattle and small stock in rural areas. Let us get the same huge government-owned water tankers used by a senior military officer to build his personal farm, and make such equipment available in the hardest hit drought areas on a consistent and regular basis.
Will this help every farmer in drought trouble? Of course not, but it could make an impact at grassroots level, to show people that their government is applying its mind to the single most devastating problem in their day-to-day existence.
Most importantly, thousands of cattle that would have otherwise died from drought conditions just might be spared and maintained as the only assets of subsistence farmers across the country. A local traditional leader was reported to have opened his ‘stores’, to allow people to collect food, in order to survive. This is a traditional and long-standing emergency feeding programme, of a kind, and government should take note of its implications. Generally speaking, feeding 100 animals can cost N$3,000 for feed, N$16,000 for grass and up to N$8,000 for transport of these items to a particular rural area.
Most local farmers don’t have this kind of money, while middle-income farmers are struggling to make this kind of cash available, and cannot provide it regularly or indefinitely.
Only the larger farmers, with thousands of hectares of land on which to rotate their large herds, bank overdrafts and sufficient agricultural revenues to provide the needed feed and water, can survive this crisis somewhat intact. But they are not the majority out there, with cattle and small stock, struggling to find solutions.
Food Banks for cattle, in the climate of cutbacks, where government can focus on a programme that maintains a wider range and longer term benefit that addresses poverty in Namibia, can improve the lives of thousands of Namibians immediately and into the future.
If we declare war on poverty and really want weapons to win it, then we must consider sustainable targeted programmes that keep a portion of each rural farmer’s animals alive.