The Namibian government should identify and reduce implicit fees associated with obtaining registration and animal movement permits especially for pastoralists, a recent study suggests.
It says the Namibian Livestock Identification and Traceability System (NamLITS), as currently conceived, represents a regressive tax, imposing fees on the poorest livestock owners in Namibia to the benefit of wealthier international exporters south of the veterinary cordon fence (VCF), which is notoriously known as the redline.
“One option is to allow local traditional authorities to provide registration tags, rather than requiring farmers to travel to regional DVS offices to obtain such tags and permits. A second option is to waive fees or make e-permitting processes more accessible to pastoralist communities,” the study recommends. This is one of three recommendations contained in the study titled ‘Seeing Cattle Like a State: Sedentist Assumptions of the Namibian Livestock Identification and Traceability System’ which dedicated a section to the redline and its ramifications on Namibians living north of the redline.
Kunene resident farmer Venomukona Tjiseua and scholars Max Mauerman and Dylan Groves, both from the United States, conducted the study that was published in Volume 27 No.2 of Nomadic Peoples.
Their study found that LITS are suffused with sedentist assumptions that are at odds with the livestock management practices of pastoralist communities.
Drawing on interviews with implementing bureaucrats and affected pastoralist communities as well as Tjiseua’s experience of growing up and managing cattle in a pastoralist community, the authors submit that: “Restrictions on animal movements across the VCF represent a de facto ban on international livestock exports for farmers in the northern communal areas.” “Both because of its historical legacy and its contemporary impact on communal livestock production, the VCF is highly controversial in Namibia, especially among northern communities.”
In theory, LITS allow governments to track and respond to disease and livestock theft efficiently. However, the study further recommends that the Namibian government should change NamLITS policy to allow families or households to register one ear tag for multiple family members, rather than requiring individualised livestock ownership.
“The current policy forces pastoralist communities to misrepresent livestock ownership patterns, since livestock ownership in pastoralist communities is more complex than a simple individual ownership relation. This misrepresentation distorts how they are viewed by banks, community-based organisations and government welfare programmes,” it explained.
It goes on to suggest that NamLITS should be modelled based on what pastoralist communities are already doing in practice.
“Finally, the Namibian government should take actions to ensure that the benefits of animal traceability are returned to the pastoralist communities who shoulder a significant portion of the cost. Recent steps to identify international export opportunities for farmers north of the VCF are an encouraging step in this regard, although they were quickly undermined by commercial farmers warning about livestock disease despite NamLITS implementation. “However, the government of Namibia should address the larger structural inequalities that separate pastoralist communities north of the VCF and sedentist farmers south of the fence. Most significantly, it means questioning the existence of the VCF itself, which continues to ensure that pastoralist communities in the north are unable to participate meaningfully in the livestock economy, even as they are increasingly surveilled, taxed and regulated to protect it.”
The authors pointed to one of their limitations: “The larger questions – about whether livestock traceability, international livestock exports, and integration of pastoralist communities into national livestock markets are inevitable and/or desirable goals for national livestock development policy – are beyond the current scope of the paper but demand careful consideration”.
At the heart of the study is the introduction of NamLITS north of the VCF, in part due to the controversial role of the VCF in Namibian politics.
The VCF was drawn by colonial authorities during German colonial rule (1884–1915) to mark the extent of settler-controlled land and later to protect German-owned livestock from the spread of rinderpest in German South West Africa, present-day Namibia.
The VCF also continued to mark an important political barrier after Namibia’s national independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990.
Today, the primary stated function of the VCF is to demarcate northern communal areas at risk of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and southern ‘FMD-free’ areas.
“For more than a century, pastoralist communities north of the VCF have been subjected to various external interventions to manage livestock numbers and mobility under the auspices of preventing livestock disease and environmental degradation, first by German colonial authorities, then by the South African apartheid government and most recently by the government of Namibia and international organisations,” the study found.
According to the study, many scholars opine that interventions have instead “served as a target and an alibi to sedentarise the (semi)nomadic population, isolate the region from the rest of the world, and to force the region’s inhabitants into a subsistence economy and thus into contract labour.”
It continues: “Over time, the VCF has also come to define a critical economic boundary, especially as it relates to land ownership and the international livestock trade. Concerning land ownership, the VCF separates primarily privately held land to the south and primarily communally held land to the north.”
The scholars further argue that: “Commercial farms in the south range from 5 000 to as many as 50 000 hectares and usually have permanent water infrastructure, which facilitates seasonal livestock movements within a single commercial farm. As a result, livestock production south of the VCF usually occurs on one plot of land, while farmers north of the VCF regularly move their cattle between establishments throughout the year.”
Concerning international livestock trade, “the VCF separates livestock owners in the south, who are legally eligible to export livestock products internationally, from livestock owners in the north, who face arduous bureaucratic hurdles to export their products.”
At the moment, Affirmative Repositioning movement leader Job Amupanda is up against land reform minister Calle Schlettwein, the government of the Republic of Namibia, Attorney General Festus Mbandeka, an official from the directorate of veterinary services Hango Nambinga and the Meat Board of Namibia, who have enlisted instructed counsel in addition to two instructing firms in the fight to remove the redline.
The latest study comes at a time when Meat Corporation of Namibia (Meatco) CEO Mwilima Mushokabanji has focused attention on creating new markets for Namibian meat emanating from the north of the VCF.
To date, Meatco successfully exported its first beef consignments to new markets, namely China in 2019 and the USA in 2020.
Meatco is in final discussions to open the Middle East market to begin exporting NCA beef into this market. Meatco made these milestones possible as part of a relentless drive to pursue an inclusive agenda to service all producers, regardless of where they find themselves in the country.
Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects.