The current global economic downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and climate variability has negatively impacted economies around the world, and Namibia is no exception. In this vein the agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein reiterated that Namibia must increase local production because it can no longer rely on supplies of basic commodities from elsewhere.
Speaking at the Economic Association of Namibia’s annual general meeting this week, Schlettwein focused on maximising Namibia’s agricultural potential for development. At the meeting, he noted that the country should not feel secure in using valuable monetary reserves to procure staple food imports to compensate for domestic food production shortfalls, but to instead concentrate on increasing local production.
“Our challenges are exacerbated by the fact that despite the above-mentioned initiatives Namibia’s agriculture sector lags far behind in the application of modern agricultural production and processing technologies,” said Schlettwein.
He continued that difficult Covid-19 times have caused some trading partners to impose export restrictions and prohibitions on staple grain foods and other essential products such as medicines and medical equipment.
He added that productivity in the Namibian economy has been declining in past years and less productivity means less efficiency, high production costs and weaker competitiveness.
Namibia currently has two initiatives aimed at increasing local agricultural production, the green scheme and the National Horticulture Development Initiative (NHDI).
The green schemes encourage the development of irrigated agronomic production with a target of reaching approximately 27 000 hectares along perennial rivers. According to the minister, green schemes have not met many of the initial goals as less than 9 000 hectares are under irrigation and several of the green scheme projects still struggle financially.
“The reasons for the poor performance of green schemes are varied, but they are mainly inadequate and poor management. Opportunities to diversify green scheme production, to open up to private sector participation, to generate power and reduce irrigation costs are available to move from loss-making to surplus production and profits,” he noted.
He said these opportunities must be realised and under the NHDI the government aims to increase local production and facilitate the marketing of fruit, vegetables, livestock fodder and other horticultural products.
The Namibian beef value chain sustains both large and small cattle farmers. According to Schlettwein, the new balance that must be found is one that assures access for all farmers without risking the loss of access to the best paying export markets such as Europe, the United States and China and access to regional markets, mainly South Africa.
According to him, the export of live animals, mostly cattle, sheep and goats has historically contributed to about two-thirds of agricultural exports by value. He said that in 2019, Namibia exported about 12 400 metric tons of meat. Most meat is exported to South Africa, Europe, the United States and China. In March, Namibia became the first and only African country to export beef to the United States.
The minister said agriculture supports the livelihoods of about 70% of the Namibian population. The majority of Namibia’s population is dependent directly or indirectly on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods. “It remains our conviction that agriculture offers the best opportunities to revitalise our economy, create productive and decent jobs, develop skills, transfer and adapt technology, bring about less inequality, better living standards for all and ensure food self-sufficiency at national and household levels.”
Schlettwein also called for the urgent transformation and modernisation of agriculture into a vertically and horizontally integrated sector for it to serve as the strong bedrock of economic recovery efforts.
“In so doing, we should also give effect to the policy objective of competitive sourcing of production inputs, adding value through the substantial transformation of produce into processed or manufactured products for domestic and export markets,” said Schlettwein.
Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Namibia Agronomic Board, Michael Iyambo, said diversification towards high-value crops offers great scope to improve the income of farmers. He urged authorities to identify export potential markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and believes that Namibia has an overproduction of onions that can be sold to the DRC, which imports onions from the Netherlands. “There is an opportunity that needs to be realised,” Iyambo said. - firstname.lastname@example.org