Agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein has sounded an urgent call for Namibians to transform and modernise agriculture into a vertically and horizontally integrated sector in order for it to serve as the strong bedrock of the country’s economic recovery efforts.
In so doing, Schlettwein said: “…we should also give effect to the policy objective of competitive sourcing of production inputs, adding value through substantial transformation of the produce into processed or manufactured products for the domestic and export markets”.
Schlettwein made the call while addressing the opening of the two-day Market-Led Agriculture Conference themed: “Agriculture Fit for the Future - Robust, Resilient and Responsive”, the first of its kind at Safari Hotel yesterday.
According to the Namibia Labour Force survey of 2018, the agricultural sector is the largest employer by far, with agriculture, forestry and fishing accounting for about 167 242 individuals (90 076 male and 77 166 female), or 15.3% of the total Namibian workforce.
“Agriculture supports the livelihoods of about 70% of the Namibian population,” Schlettwein said, adding that it remains government’s conviction that agriculture offers the best opportunities to revitalise the country’s economy.
“Agriculture can 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 said the economy must be turned into an investment-led and export driven with domestic and regional value chains adding value to available raw materials.
“Quality finished goods and services should become our tradable products, not only primary goods,” he said.
Over the past 10 years or so, he said investment flows weakened, with public investments declining and private investment turning negative (more capital outflows than inflows).
“This is a worrying trend, especially in a situation, when this happens regardless of whether the economy grows or shrinks. The private sector maintains that the causes for these trends are uncertainty as a result of empowerment and redistributive policies of government,” he said.
According to him, this, therefore, becomes a challenge that must be soberly discussed and resolved.
“Perpetual inequality and a severely skewed wealth distribution are unsustainable and will cause political instability if not addressed meaningfully,” said the former finance minister,
He said the options are not whether or not to proceed with empowerment and redistribution policies to erode inequality, but it is about finding how to achieve a more equal society and more dignified lifestyle for all Namibians in the shortest possible time.
According to him, public investment in the agricultural sector has been on a declining trajectory, having dropped from an average of 4.6% of the national budget 10 years ago to 3.6% now.
This low public sector investment in the agriculture sector, he said highlights the large scope for public-private sector partnerships through integrated and coordinated public-private investment in the agriculture sector.
“The way in which agricultural production and agro-processing value chains are developed and interlinked into the domestic and export markets will determine the appetite for private sector investment. Our job is to enhance the appetite,” he said.
He said the ease or rather the non-ease of doing business, the red tape and bureaucracy, is an area where Namibia is consistently rated below global averages.
“It is one of the softer matters than can and should be addressed swiftly. We have started with relaxing visa requirement, especially for businesspersons. We are checking all regulatory requirements as to whether they actually add value; if not, they will be abolished,” he said.