WINDHOEK - “Our situation is dire. We are facing one of the worst droughts in recent memory and the critical state of the local economy as well as a dilapidated sheep export scheme have thrown Namibian small stock farmers into the eye of a perfect storm. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.”
With these words, Tjivii Tjombe, a prominent farmer of Van Roy sheep of the Okandjira settlement in Omatako Constituency in Otjozondjupa Region summed up the situation he and fellow-farmers from that area face.
“And it’s not only us sheep farmers suffering the terrible effects of the drought and the tight-belt economy. Cattle farmers are also on their knees. In most cases the animals have lost so much condition already that marketing is not an option anymore. I have never seen livestock farmers suffer so badly in all my years farming here,” laments Tjombe.
He says he has survived as a stud breeder up to now by selling rams to breeders who could still afford it for breeding purposes but now the entire chain has shut down. “All you see on farmers’ faces is desperation. Money has dried up not just for feeding animals but also for food and things like school fees. It’s just too terrible for words,” he relates.
He says this while some of his prized Van Rooy sheep stand in the background on barren and scorched earth, desperately looking for a blade of grass in the rock-strewn countryside.
Tjombe says nobody could see the devastation of the drought coming and being so severe. “We all know that early planning and action improves the options for selling sheep. But we held onto the hope of late rains which did not come and very quickly animals lost too much condition to be saleable and market prices have started to drop.
“In general, a sound policy is to sell some stock and feed the rest. But nobody has got money anymore for animal feeds. One has to maintain as many breeders as possible to assist in building up stock numbers quickly after the drought breaks, but it is mission impossible because now it is winter and the most critical period in maintaining your herd is still to come.”
He says the weakening product-to-feed ratio, driven by the higher maize and soya bean prices, has reduced profit margins.
“Lucerne is scarce and available only at high prices. We can’t afford it at about N$130 per bale.”
Tjombe says communal farmers can’t afford to do supplementary feed to enable them to survive. This is easy to do for some farmers for a period, but becomes impossible as the drought continues.
Farmers who can stick it out, however, will benefit in the long run. Livestock profits are traditionally much higher after, than during, a drought. Farmers who spent money to enable their animals to survive will find that the value of the animals has increased by more than the cost of the feed. The impact of climate change is already noticeable throughout southern Africa, says Guy Midgley, a global change researcher and professor at Stellenbosch University.
In Namibia, the impact has been even more severe, with roughly 30 million hectares of farmland affected by bush encroachment, drastically reducing cattle herds and the incomes of tens of thousands of households.