By Deon Schlechter
The Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) in cooperation with the Namibia Emerging Commercial Farmers Union (NECFU) has urgently requested the agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb to declare the 2019 drought a national disaster.
This desperate action came last Friday in an effort to look for further international support. The request comes in the wake of independent reports which show that the rangeland condition on 92 percent of all land in Namibia is below normal, while a staggering 64 percent of the entire country has a vegetation cover of less than 20 percent of normal.
It is further estimated that the water currently available in the Hardap dam will not be able to sustain irrigation at current levels until the end of 2019.
Pressure on current livestock marketing channels is immense with plummeting auction prices due to an oversupply of especially lean animals.
To add insult to injury, a large part of the dry-land maize harvest is already destroyed, and rain figures for March proved to be the final nail in the coffin when more than 50 percent of the country received way below normal downpours.
According to the NAU, the request from !Naruseb received the immediate attention of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). The OPM responded by confirming that deliberations are underway to enable President Hage Geingob to declare a national disaster.
Farmers associations under the umbrellas of both the unions have reported the extent of the crippling drought in detail and the Namibia Rangeland Monitoring’s Early Warning System has documented the depletion of national rangelands which has devastating effects on communal, commercial and emerging farmers.
Communal farmers – who supply some 70 percent of all weaners exported to South Africa – have indicated to New Era that their situation is worse than the drought of 2013.
The request comes in the wake of the Dare to Care Disaster Fund having raised more than N$4 million and the Namibia Farmers Drought Aid Programme of Summerdown/Steinhausen rancher Henriëtte le Grange raising close to one million dollars and supplying fodder to almost 100 000 animals in the south.
Some of the communal farmers told this reporter that communal pastoralists often can’t do anything in response to drought and it is often a most rational response given the constraints they face.
They indicated that unallocated grazing is simply not available, and moving livestock elsewhere is not possible. Commercial farmers do not face the same constraints and have some options. Renting grazing by moving livestock to farms less affected by drought is the most feasible response, but commercial farmers say they are also out of options. Selling the maximum number of livestock early and grazing the small remainder on the farm is feasible financially but has grave ecological consequences.
Due to the situation, prices at auctions have plummeted and there is a total oversupply of mainly lean animals.
Communal farmers say their next-best option is to supplement the smallest possible number of livestock in a kraal.
Kraal-feeding is expensive but protects the farm’s long-term grazing. An accumulated fodder bank makes this option more economical but buying drought feed easily leads to bankruptcy if feeding exceeds three to four months which is the case now for all of them. Farmers should kraal-feed only the absolute minimum number of livestock.
Dr Axel Rothauge, Namibian animal scientist and rangeland specialist with 35 years’ professional experience, owns the consultancy company AgriConsult Namibia and he says ruminants can survive a drought despite losing considerable body mass. “Weaners can lose 20 percent of their mass during a drought and catch up afterwards by compensatory growth. Adults can lose up to 33 percent of their mass (body condition score = 2/5) without long-term ill effect. Weight loss during gestation should be limited to 15 percent in young and 22 percent in mature females,” he observes.