The Kavango West region was created in 2013, following a delimitation commission report, to address developmental challenges in that part of the country and to bring services closer to the people in order to improve their standard of living. Seven years down the line, New Era regional reporter for Kavango East and West, John Muyamba spoke to Kavango West governor Sirkka Ausiku on poverty levels and developmental challenges in her region.
JM: What are the challenges that lead to poverty in the region or challenges that derail overcoming poverty?
SA: According to the Namibia Statistics Agency, the region’s poverty rate stands at 27.9%, while unemployment stands at 33%, and among the youth, it stands at 46.8%.
The region has substantial economic, investment potential, and opportunities, which can provide employment for its people, especially the youth. Various sectors, among others, agriculture, manufacturing and tourism were identified for development to help address the region’s developmental challenges.
The region hosted its first investment conference in 2019 and investors, both local and international, attended. However, funding of the identified projects remains a big challenge and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted many plans and affected the region negatively.
Furthermore, lack of financial support from financial institutions like Agribank to local farmers who want to embark on irrigation of their fields to produce food, as well as create employment and reduce poverty is another challenge. The same applies to local aspiring businesses and entrepreneurs who also experience lack of financial support from financial institutions like the Development Bank of Namibia (DBN) and others.
The majority of businesses in the region are new and upcoming, and the application process for financial assistance has been a challenge as requirements are too much for them to meet, especially the issue of collateral is a big stumbling block to most of our upcoming businesses to access financial assistance. These phenomena are hampering the regional initiatives of starting with bigger projects in the field of agriculture and manufacturing that can make big impacts through the creation of employment and in the process reduce poverty.
Similarly, lack of infrastructure such as water pipelines, road networks (feeder roads), rural electrification, as well as communication networks, specifically in the rural areas, are also contributing to the poverty situation. Access to deep inland areas for service delivery has proven to be very difficult due to the lack of feeder roads, electricity and mobile communication networks. Water provision is another serious setback for the region as many of our villages, especially inland, still have no potable water for drinking and agricultural purposes.
Lastly, lack of national documents has also contributed to the poverty levels in the region. Many of our people still do not have the required national documents such as identity documents (IDs) and birth certificates and are unable to access the available social grants. Many elderly people who are supposed to be receiving the monthly pension grant, cannot access these grants because they do not have IDs. The same goes for vulnerable children, orphans and people with disabilities who are unable to receive social grants. This contributes to poverty in the region.
JM: In your opinion, what can be done to uplift the people of your region from poverty? What does the region need to empower people, especially the youth?
SA: The region is blessed with fertile land and a perennial river. As highlighted above, the region has identified key sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. With good investments, these sectors can create jobs for our people and reduce poverty in the process. The people of the region are subsistence farmers and only need to be assisted to graduate from the traditional way of agricultural production to a more modern and effective way of farming to address food security at the household level and beyond.
Financial institutions such as Agribank and Development Bank of Namibia must create tailor-made programmes and projects targeting small-scale farmers living along the Kavango River to utilise their land optimally, as well as upcoming entrepreneurs who are aspiring to grow their companies.
We want to see green fields along the Kavango River throughout the year and not just during the rainy season, and communities need to produce more using irrigation systems. It is very disappointing that even in the two existing green scheme irrigation projects, namely Sikondo and Musese, you do not find local farmers participating there because of the lack of financial support, and you ask yourself how other farmers manage to access financial support and local farmers from the region cannot get loans from financial institutions? Thus, the region is appealing to the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform (MAWLR) and Agribusdev as well as financial institutions to look into this and accord local small-scale farmers opportunities to participate in the green schemes.
The green schemes need to operate at full capacity to address food security in the country. Furthermore, local communities living nearby need to be equipped with technical support like ploughing services and training in order to improve their production and not just rely on the temporary and casual jobs created. The region is thus appealing to AMTA and the Namibia Agronomic Board to be visible in the region to assist farmers to get markets for their produce at good prices in order to make their businesses more attractive for more people to join and participate. Currently, the price for mahangu grain is discouraging local farmers to produce more.
There is a need for more training and technical support from MAWLR and other institutions for our local youth and farmers in horticulture production and climate resilient agriculture to be able to boost food production.
JM: What are the key things that hinder development in your region and what can government through the regional council do to assist?
SA: The creation of the new region came at a very difficult period when the world was going through an economic downturn and Namibia was no exception. Most projects, especially new ones, were put on hold and that affected our region negatively. Secondly, the persistent drought the country experienced over the past four years also affected the development of the region. Thirdly, the outbreak of Covid-19 last year worsened the situation as the attention shifted to the fight against the pandemic.
However, this has not stopped the region from engaging various key institutions to help realise its development agenda. We appreciate the initiative by the Bank of Namibia to engage the region to help identify some key developmental projects that can be explored for funding, either by the government or through private investors. Through this initiative, a team of experts from the Bank of Namibia visited our region in February this year to look at some of the economic opportunities in the fields of agriculture production, value addition, as well as tourism.
The region further appreciates the engagement by the Development Bank of Namibia with local business people and entrepreneurs to see how to support them with finances and training. In the same vein, Agribank had an engagement with the youth and farmers in the region that are involved in agriculture and those planning to start with farming activities. We hope that these engagements will bear fruits to assist the region in achieving its developmental agenda.
It is important to note that people in the region are ready and they only need financial support and training to help them realise their potential and help transform the region. The region has the potential to become a food basket for our country and beyond with good investment in the field of agriculture. Further, Covid-19 has taught us as a country to learn to be self-reliant in terms of food production. With the necessary support from the central government and all our stakeholders, the region is ever ready to take the lead in food production for our country.
JM: Lack of infrastructure is one of the challenges in your region. How does it affect development?
SA: Yes, there is a lack of infrastructure such as roads specifically feeder roads, water provision specifically water pipelines, electrification, communication networks just to mention but a few. The lack of these infrastructure hampers development in the region. The region is therefore appealing to the central government, key stakeholders and investors, both local and international, to come on board and help address some of these challenges in the next five years.