This edition’s lead story of a farmer who lost a large number of livestock is for the lack of a better word, depressing. It is depressing in the sense that while it is certain such loss will set the farmer back by a few hundred Namibian dollars in lost income, there is virtually no reward for him.
At times like these, one would expect the government to have a deliberate compensation policy for farmers losing their livestock to a natural disaster. Also, the story raises a poignant question; how does one deal with poisonous plants on which animals graze and browse?
In high-income countries, livestock are mainly treated as a financial asset and one of many sources of food. This is in stark contrast to low-income countries, where livestock have a range of functions.
Animals provide meat, milk and eggs; they assist with ploughing fields; they can be sold for cash and play a role in cultural identity. In addition, livestock in low-income countries have direct and indirect values relating to food, agriculture, savings and cultural values.
When livestock losses occur due to a disaster, it is direct values – those that can be estimated using market prices – that are generally considered in evaluating the cost of the losses. However, such valuation rarely incorporates the indirect values of livestock, which can be more difficult to observe, but often more important than the direct financial loss incurred in a disaster.
All these factors are affected when livestock are lost in disasters. An understanding and acknowledgement of these indirect roles is crucial in understanding the role of livestock in developing economies, and in understanding why their loss in natural disasters is so damaging.
Economists have attempted to model the costs of disasters, both direct and indirect, using regression analysis.
Livestock play an important and multifaceted role in low-income economies. Their many direct and indirect values make quantification of their contribution difficult. As a result, their indirect values, in particular, are often overlooked.
Natural disasters take a heavy toll on low-income countries due to those countries’ exposure and vulnerability, part of which is due to their high dependence on livestock.
In these countries, farming is more than just owning animals. It is about a relationship; a journey that a farmer goes through with his livestock.
Therefore, losing livestock is more than just an economic loss. It is both a psychological and emotional experience. As such, the government needs to show that it can take care of the farmers in times like these. Simply put, the government needs to show that it can take care of the people who take care of the country›s economy by feeding it – both literally and figuratively.
Take care of the farmer, and he will take care of you. As simple as that.