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Covid hits communal farmers hard

2021-07-06  Charles Tjatindi

Covid hits communal farmers hard

Subsistence farming in the communal areas continues to bear the brunt of Covid-19, as farmers succumbing to the disease left behind a huge income shortfall for the surviving family members.

Many farmers in various parts of the Omaheke region tell a similar tale, reflecting worry, despair and a sense of hopefulness amid growing Covid-19 deaths in the region.

Amongst those succumbing to Covid-19 are heads of households in the communal areas, on whose existence several family members survive. With them gone, the battle for survival takes a toll on the family, which must now find alternative income sources.

 As many farmers survived on a hand-to-mouth basis, typical of subsistence farming in the area, there is little left for the grieving family members to go on after their demise. Livelihoods are forever changed, as family members now have to find new modes of income to care for children and others in need.

Due to the sensitive nature of the matter, no farmer was willing to speak on record, and many consented to provide information on condition of anonymity.

 At one village, three farmers were buried a week ago. For the closely-knit farming community of the Omaheke region, these are three deaths too many. An Epukiro farmer, Gerson Kambirongo said farming has been greatly interrupted in the area due to rising Covid-19 infections. He said while many are battling to hold on and continue farming, as usual, it is clear that the farming landscape has been greatly altered by the pandemic.

“We used to have a lot of interactions as farmers around communal water points, funerals and weddings to discuss and share ideas on farming amongst others. This is now impossible and has robbed us of that platform to exchange ideas and lessons learnt.

“Farming is an enterprise that no single person can claim to know it all, so we all need each other,” he said.

For those in cities and towns, it is an even higher mountain to climb. Leaving restricted areas to attend to their farming activities across regional boundaries means such farmers have to get police clearance through travel permits issued by the Namibian Police. This has not been as easy as it sounds, Ben Moroki, a farmer in the Kalahari constituency told AgriToday.

 He said despite queuing up for hours at police stations, it is the grilling on why one has to be issued a travel permit by the police that makes the process hard.

 «You have to prove why you need to go to your farm - be it communal or commercial. Imagine how difficult that is. A simple ‹I want to check on the animals› simply does not do it. You need to have strong reasons such as that your water pump is broken and your animals are thirsty or that people have stolen your livestock.

“We understand the pressure the police are under and appreciate their work, but we are equally strained by this pandemic,” he said.

For now, livestock auctions appear to go on uninterrupted. But the prices have started falling - another headache for many subsistence communal farmers who would always hope to optimise on the sale of their livestock in order to feed, clothe and take care of themselves and their families.

“If prices of livestock fall at a steady pace, one can handle it. But when they take a nosedive, it is trouble in capital letters for us,” said Vivian Kameri who also farms in the Kalahari constituency.

As authorities scramble for solutions to halt rising infections in the region, many farmers appear to be heeding their calls for the proper application of Covid-19 prevention protocols.

Farmers are of course hoping that the Covid-19 wave shall pass and that they could resume their normal activities, as so do the rest of Namibians.

2021-07-06  Charles Tjatindi

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