Food production must be our priority

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

There has been much talk of using virgin land in Zambezi Region for tobacco production. Without empirical testing, I want to guess that there are extremely few people in our country who are smokers. Should that project materialise, it will only benefit a few individuals, as opposed to the nation at large.

Is tobacco production more important than food production? Does it mean the potential investor has only expertise in tobacco production and not food production? Zambezi Region could be turned into a food basket for all Namibians instead of a nicotine producing region for a few individuals.

Consider also that after the globe was struck by the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19, the entire world is almost at a standstill economically. The world is on its knees because Covid-19 does not discriminate. It infects and kills both rich and poor equally.

Covid-19 made world leaders spend sleepless nights trying to understand this invisible enemy and how best to fight it. Covid-19 forced almost all governments to declare states of emergency and lockdowns to ensure its containment.

In United States of America, President Trump signed into law an unprecedented two trillion US dollars in response to the pandemic. That was followed by the European Union allocating billions of euros for the same purpose. In Namibia, the government availed N$8.1 billion towards the fight.

The point is that when everybody’s life is in danger, political leaders across the globe have swiftly taken whatever decision to fight and contain the virus. But when there is a security threat caused by hunger and food insecurity for a fraction of the population, there may be no urgency to take similar quick and bold decisions.

There are people in this country who have been surviving from the dumpsites for years.

There are those who have been sleeping under bridges and in riverbeds. Presumably, today those people would express their appreciation that Covid-19 has changed their living conditions. They may further wish the status quo to continue so as to enjoy the privilege of having shelter over the heads and food.

The reason those people have faced uncertainty for years is because of lack of dedicated commitment to food production and food security.

Since the formulation of the Agricultural Policy 25 years ago. There has never been a dedicated agricultural budget, specifically for the broader farming industry aimed at addressing food security and unemployment.

Against that background, I humbly proffer my views as follows;

1. Fundamentally, there is an exigent need to critically review both Vision 2030 and Agricultural Policy to establish whether they are still current for the purposes they were formulated.

2. While the Agricultural Policy is a splendid document, it has fallen short of the target as it did not address financial resources as enabling instruments for the success of the farming industry.

3. Bottlenecks and impediments identified here deserve serious consideration and decisions if the country is to move to self-sufficiency and self-reliance and cut ourselves from dependence on South Africa for food security.

4. While the ministries of Agriculture and Finance must drive issues of agriculture, addressing those issues must not be left to their hands only. The issues must remain central to the executive branch for national directive for the success of farming industry.

5. There is a need to commission a fact-finding mission to assess what individual farmers are capable of producing and to provide them with commensurate financial support as incentives.

6. There is urgent need to review the state of Agribank to ensure it serves the interests of the farming industry as opposed to serving as a cash cow institution.

7. The decision to allocate land for tobacco production in Zambezi region must be reviewed and turned into a green scheme for food production.

It must be underpinned that policy statements by nature are just direction pointers on how to achieve goals but not goals in themselves. Goals are achieved through goals persuasion, pooling human, financial and other enabling resources together.

While Vision 2030 and Namibia Agricultural Policy are formulated to achieve multiple national goals, in their current forms they lack aggressive persuasion for the realisation of the set goals. There is need to fine-tune them to serve as vehicles to free us from the bondage of food insecurity.

Namibians need to embark on the struggle to fight and defeat hunger, even if it means expending our last bullets. To make an impact, we must undertake a drastic paradigm shift and quantum leap in food production for food security and free ourselves from dependency syndrome.

Suffice to say, self-sufficiency and self-reliance in food production must be our national ultimate long term strategy as we navigate through the 21st century.

The more I think about the possible far-reaching ramifications of food insecurity, the more new avenues open up for more discussions on this issue. Food security is a national nerve centre because all living organisms including human beings survive on food. But food remains scarce in some countries including Namibia, as it is not readily available on a silver platter.

Although scarce and not readily available, human beings do not hang their stomachs when there is no food nor do they borrow stomachs from those who have enough food. Human beings are duty-bound to produce food for our survival.

In the preceding parts of this article, I briefly wrote about the Namibian Agriculture Policy and its linkage to Vision 2030. I equally looked into the provisions of Agribank, which was supposed to be a financial helping hand but has now turned into a cash-cow financial institution.

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Fundamentally, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land in which all other laws and policies must have their roots.

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It is therefore ideal to determine whether the Constitution makes provision with regard to economic development.

Chapter 11, Article 98 of the Constitution is about the Principles of Economic Order which are based, inter alia, on “public, private, joint public-private, co-operatives and small scale family”. The principles are based on the concept of a mixed economy with the objective of securing economic growth, prosperity and a life of human dignity for all Namibians.

Most importantly, the Principles of Economic Order allow the State to participate directly or in forms of joint ventures with private entities to ensure economic development, including sufficient food production.

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In developing the agricultural sector, the State should not be complacent with mere subsidisation of private farms or farmers, whose main objective and at times solely objective is to make profits. The primary goal must be for government to actively participate in agricultural activities to ensure the production of sufficient, secure and healthier foodstuffs for the citizens.

In this context it is important to note that the Namibian State has since independence been acquiring farmlands that can be used for food production. According to the Namibian Statistics Agency by 2018, the government acquired over 496 farms and resettled 5 300 formerly disadvantaged households.

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During his budget motivation speech of 2018/2019, then Minister of Lands and Resettlement Utoni Nujoma told the National Assembly that the ministry had bought 12 farms with 69 633 hectares and resettled 13 families. Those farms were acquired at the cost of N$132 million Namibian dollars. He further requested an amount of N$496 million for 2019/2020. The abovementioned figures are just the tip of an iceberg, based on single financial year.

If one does the maths, it soon becomes obvious that for years the government has been pumping billions of dollars into the resettlement programme. In the final analysis, the problem is not how much money has gone into the project but are there tangible returns commensurate to the billions of dollars that have gone into that?

I am fully conscious that Namibia is an arid country. However, it is surrounded by perennial rivers namely, Orange, Zambezi, Cuando, Okavango and Kunene rivers. While some of these rivers are shared with neighbouring countries, the Kunene River traverses kilometres into Namibia before it flows into the blue ocean.

After Ruacana Power Station from where Nampower generates power, we were supposed to tap from the river for agricultural purposes. Instead, water becomes a political game while millions of cubic metres of water go into the sea for good.

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In addition, it is understood that we have huge deposits of underground water reservoirs. The huge aquifer measured in trillion cubic meters of water is particularly found in Ohangwena Region and Etosha. If developed, these reservoirs could provide water for consumption and irrigation, thus increasing food production.

The Constitution set out the Principles of Economic Order. Those principles are legal enabling instruments that once translated into action will result in developments from which the nation will benefit. One thing is for sure, we are not bad at making laws and policies but we are very poor at interpreting, translating and pursuing them to the intended goals and objectives.

Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and Senior Lecturer at IUM.

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