Johannes Slava Motinga
The Namibian government declared the Swakara industry as an industry of strategic importance for the country. Swakara farming is prominently undertaken in the southern regions of Namibia, the Hardap and the //Kharas region.
The regions’ climatic and rangeland conditions are characteristic of the arid environments, with erratic and little rainfall activities, and extreme temperatures. The Swakara sheep is a robust breed, able to thrive despite the dry desert conditions in the //Kharas and the Hardap regions of Namibia.
In some parts, conditions are so harsh that no other livestock or crop can be profitably cultivated but Swakara, which thrives, as it is a perfect product for the harsh conditions of the country.
The Swakara farmers have endured such conditions over the years, but the current climate change events, such as the recurrent drought in the country have exacerbated the farming conditions of the Swakara. With the previous rainy season experienced in the country, most parts of the country received significant rain with good rangeland production. The southern part of the country is still reeling in difficult conditions as the rainfall was sporadic, little with poor rangeland recovery. Some areas were reported to have received about 40 mm of rainfall for the entire season.
On that, Swakara farmers had to make unusually tough management decisions regarding their flocks. They had to destock drastically, selling off a significant number of their productive animals, male and females. Some had to relocate their animals to other grazing areas, which was a costly exercise, due to leasing and transportation costs, including licks and feed supplementation. The closure of the Hardap Dam sluices also had a negative impact to the green scheme projects producing lucerne and other fodder crops. Thus, fodder supply was affected, and livestock farmers had to import or look for alternative fodder sources at a higher cost. The grazing conditions are poor, most of the perennial grasses are depleted since 2013, the animals’ body conditions are poor, about one and two scores. Thus, the sheep reproduction performance was compromised.
Swakara production experienced a drastic decrease in price due to the turmoil in the global fur market and the economic situation in the rest of the world. Further, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the conditions. The trade in Swakara products or pelts was affected, resulting in the scheduled April 2020 auction being migrated to an electronic platform. Local and international borders were closed, and of the total 30 621 pelts on offer, only 3 228 pelts (10%) were sold via an electronic auction held at Copenhagen Fur on 22 April 2020. Some pelts were deferred to the September auction.
The Swakara farmers in the country are severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the largest crisis being a lack of cash flow amongst others. Since the production continues in anticipation of the next auction, they may produce more than they would market, or they may face pelt storage challenges e.g. prolonged storage and spoilage of pelts. This is one economic sector hit hard by the pandemic.
In order to revive and sustain the Swakara industry, the role players including government should invest in skills and infrastructure development for Swakara producers, this includes promoting the youth to venture in this unique and valuable business for the country. Attractive production and marketing incentives for farmers will be important to ensure the sustainability of the industry. This could be an opportunity for Agribank to inject financial resources into the Swakara production system in order to revive the industry.