Food security a national nerve centre – Part 3

By Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah

HUMAN beings have many needs to satisfy but there are always limited resources to satisfy those needs. Limited resources necessitate planning as a tool to achieve multiple goals. Because of multiple goals and limited resources, the need to prioritise comes into play to achieve more with less.

Prioritising is one of the most difficult aspects, as problems may manifest themselves as if they are all equally important and urgent. To establish with a degree of accuracy, there is need to apply the techniques of weighing, balancing and possibly trading-off. These techniques will, however, present another challenge in terms of how to strike a balance between what is important and urgent, and what is urgent but not important.

Take the example of dealing with aspects of food production for food security as the mainstay of the country’s survival, and tobacco production for smokers only. In that scenario, there is need for a balancing act, which in turn requires those who are well-versed in the subject and with the acumen to deal with the problem.

Food production for food security is the nerve centre of every nation, including Namibia. Therefore we must ask ourselves why after 30 years of independence, Namibia is still not self-reliant and self-sufficient in food production for food security?

This article will address multiple issues that have relevance to food production for food security with some fundamental questions of ‘what if?’ I therefore, request the reader to read this article together with part one and two of the previous article I wrote on ‘The importance of national food production for food security.’

The question of ‘what if?’ must be embedded in our minds to be able to find scientific solutions to the problem of food production for food security. The following are fundamental questions that we must ponder as a nation that depends on South Africa for food security:

1. What if Namibia was at war with South Africa, what could be our fall-back strategy to ensure unbreakable food supply lines?

2. What if Covid-19 lasts for an extended period beyond imagination, as a result of which South Africa runs out of food surpluses for export?

3. What are the root causes that we are unable to secure food production for food security 30 years after our independence?

4. What is Namibia’s future strategy on food production for food security?

In order to holistically understand and resolve the problem of food production for food security in Namibia, we must establish the bottlenecks and impediments that may be the root causes to that problem. These may include but are not limited to:

1. One may buy commercial farmland, yet not be able to stock the farm with livestock or secure equipment and implements for crop production.

2. Prices for farmland are exorbitant as prices are left in the hands of sellers, resulting in colossal financial burdens to buyers.

3. Agribank’s interest rate of 9% is unbearable and skyrocketing as this is set for the bank to make profit instead of assisting farmers.

4. Regardless of natural calamities, like severe drought wherein farmers lose their animals, instead of writing off arrears for that period, Agribank will defer payment to a later date.

5. There are no government subsidies or affordable loans as incentives for farmers. The non-existence of incentives is a deterrent to those who are willing to join the farming industry but do not have capital.

6. Most farms that would be productive spaces are taken up by bush encroachment without any means to de-bush.

7. Communally, one may have land that they have been working for years but now that land has become non-productive, and farmers are without the means to rejuvenate it for productivity.

8. There is no national budget dedicated to agriculture and food production for food security.

Having identified those impediments, I perused Namibia’s Agricultural Policy. As an enabling policy instrument, it is well-crafted with well-articulated objectives and strategies.   

That policy document was first formulated in 1995. Its formulation was deemed necessary as Namibia needed an Agriculture Policy based on Article 98 of the Namibian Constitution, which provides for “the economic order based on the principles of a mixed economy with the objective of securing economic growth, prosperity and a life of human dignity”.

The Agriculture Policy was formulated during a transitional period and drawn from a transitional National Development Plan, guided by the development of Namibia’s agriculture sector.

In 2015, the policy document was reviewed. In his foreword, Honourable John Mutorwa, then Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry said: “This policy provides a clear framework for all stakeholders in the Namibian agricultural sector to devise interventions that would enable them to make a concerted and meaningful contribution towards the sustainable development and growth of the agriculture sector in Namibia.”

The splendid policy statement by the minister gives hope that Namibia shall be one of the countries to make a meaningful contribution towards the sustainable development and growth of agriculture. However, while the statement is very promising, the practical reality on the ground is that there is stagnation.

In the same document, in his capacity as acting permanent secretary Abraham Nehemia noted that: “In 2014 the agriculture sector and its related industries contributed 3.7 percent to GDP and grew by 9.6 percent … the agriculture sector is the highest employer with 172 530 people employed in 2012, which represented 27.4 percent of total employment…”.

Deducing from percentages of the employed workforce, it has been recognised beyond reasonable doubt that agriculture is one of the major contributors to employment and the national economy. Having recognised that fact, one would have expected government to make tangible financial contributions for the sustenance of agricultural employment and economic development.

That policy document also explicitly stated that “the government has set agriculture as an economic priority sector due to its potential to contribute to economic growth and employment generation. The focus on agriculture under the NDP4 goes beyond production to include large-scale development of the agribusiness and agro-industry.”

By any interpretation, there is a missing link in this policy statement, because setting agriculture as a priority sector due to its potential to contribute to economic growth and employment generation would mean government should make concerted financial commitment to enable farmers to achieve that national goal.

The omission or commission in the Agricultural Policy to accommodate financial support by the government to the farming industry is the missing link. Instead of government providing financial support for the success of the farming industry, the industry is left squarely in the hands of individual farmers to fail.

To be continued…