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Editorial - Let’s take agriculture seriously

2022-10-07  Staff Reporter

Editorial - Let’s take agriculture seriously

There is no doubt that agriculture is one of Namibia’s most important economic sectors. About 70% of Namibians depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their income and livelihood, including subsistence farmers. Despite the massive potential the sector holds, we have not adequately invested in agriculture given the fact that Namibia is still not self-sufficient in food security.

In his budget motivation earlier this year, agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein noted 23% of the working population in Namibia is employed in the agriculture sector, making it the second highest employer after government and constitutes about 8% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Since the dissipating effects of the 2019 drought and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the agricultural sector has demonstrated its resilience as one of the few sectors which sustained a positive growth trajectory, thus anchoring current and future economic recovery prospects. The GDP latest data from the Second Quarter of 2022 indicate the sector’s real output expanded by about 2% year-on-year, since the rebound of 6.3% in 2020.

This return to positive growth trajectory for the national economy sets the necessary condition for the country to realise per capita income gains and reduce poverty and unemployment through growth. However, this week, Schlettwein stressed that such an impactful growth proposition is only possible when growth translates into job creation and actual income generation.

The trade pattern also indicates Namibia remains a net importer of food, thus affirming assertions that we are far from being a food secure nation. Sadly, this situation is exacerbated by the underperformance of crucial public entities, while the country’s green scheme projects are a pale shadow of their former self. This week New Era reported on the sinking Etunda irrigation project in the Omusati region, which was once regarded as a beacon of hope for youth employment and food security. Our team’s visit to Etunda recently painted a gloomy picture on the state of affairs.

Firstly, the land demarcated for government’s agricultural activities remains idle and officials have been lodging at the scheme’s government houses while collecting salaries since October last year. Secondly, there has been no production on the State’s portion of land since last year. Frustrated smallholders allude that venturing into the scheme left them cash-strapped and indebted, as they struggle to make ends meet. The farmers claim they have no market for their harvests.

These are not only problems of Etunda. Many other green schemes are not producing optimally, hence the situation calls for better management of under-utilised land and water resources to turn things around.

We agree wholeheartedly with Schlettwein, who this week implored stakeholders to unleash the potential the Namibian agriculture sector holds in order to drive thousands of our countrymen and women out of the misery of poverty and joblessness.

To be quite frank, the green schemes are beset by many challenges. Chief, among them, is the poor management of the farms and lack of funds to keep them afloat and productive. The wrong recruitment and failure to hold officials accountable are other reasons for the colossal failure of the green schemes and this is confirmed by the demise of the Agricultural Business Development Agency (AgriBusDev), which is now relegated to a ministerial department. We, therefore, need an all-hands-on-deck approach in order to help transform the agriculture sector. Doubling the value of this critical sector will undoubtedly lead to more jobs, raised incomes and doing away with a dependency syndrome.

2022-10-07  Staff Reporter

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