Experts advise farmers to adopt climate-agricultural practices

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Rain is the glue that holds Namibia’s agriculture-based economy, especially for subsistence farmers in the semi-arid southern African nation.

Nearly half of the population depends on subsistence farming – crop production and livestock farming.

Hence, the variation in the summer rainfalls has both negative and positive effects on their livelihoods. Normally, farmers in the north and north-eastern parts of Namibia start planting their main crops - millet, sorghum and maize ‑ with the first rains in the first half of the rainy season from October to December.

Last season, Namibia recorded heavy rains that resulted in a bumper harvest for subsistence farmers.

This time around, the rain is behind schedule, which has farmers worried. The second half of the rainy season starts from January to March and farmers are yet to plant their fields.

Crop farmers, who received some good showers late last year, have been helplessly watching their crops wilting and dying in the summer heat.

Regions such as Kavango East, in the northeast, received good rainfall in December, which encouraged farmers to start ploughing and planting their fields.

But that seems to have been a false start, as crops are now dying from the heat and lack of moisture, says regional governor Samuel Mbambo.

In the northern part of the country, the region normally receives rainfall as from October and farmers start ploughing fields and weeding from November to January. And by February cultivation ought to be in full swing, but farmers are idling around due to lack of rain.

Omusati governor, Ignatius Endjala, expressed concern that “if no rain is received soon, the situation will be devastating, especially for livestock”.

“I am worried about some areas where there is a lack of both water and grass for grazing,” he said.

Many communal farmers have already lost their animals, mainly cattle, to the drought. 

In the eastern region of Omaheke, farmers no longer have pasture and water for their livestock. The constituency councillor of Epukiro spoke of cattle dying in droves. This threatens the livelihoods of farmers who are dependent on the beasts for survival. 

“If you happen to be driving through Epukiro, it is impossible to drive two kilometres without coming across a helpless cow that has succumbed to famine,” said Epukiro Councillor Cornelius Kanguatjivi.

Thousands of cattle have perished due to lack of food and water. Kanguatjivi stressed that the situation is getting worse and is appealing to the government to provide emergency relief to both humans and animals.

The lack of grazing has also forced farmers in northern Namibia to drive their livestock into southern Angola in search of grazing. The Governor of Ohangwena region, Usko Nghaamwa, said although his region recorded a bumper crop harvest last season, the same cannot be said for livestock.

Nghaamwa said most of the farmers in his region were left with no option but to seek grazing for their livestock in Angola, while others continue to inject thousands of dollars into purchasing animals fodder.

The cattle driven into Angola have caused friction between the two southern African neighbours, which has since been resolved. Nghaamwa said the two governments have reached consensus to allow Namibians farmers to graze their livestock in southern Angola.

The Namibia Meteorological Services has forecast normal to below normal rainfall during the period January to March 2019. The previous period, October to December 2018 was already characterised by lower than normal rainfall in most areas of the country. This assessment was supported by the 22nd Annual Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-22), which predicted that SADC was likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall for most of the period October to December 2018 and forecast the same for January to March 2019 for most of the region.

Climate-smart agriculture

 Namibia and other countries in the region are making efforts to ensure subsistence farmers adapt to climate change with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) encouraging small-scale farmers to adopt farming practices that are resilient to the adverse impacts of climate change.

FAO Country Representative in Namibia, Farayi Zimudzi noted that governments and international organisations such as FAO have invested in efforts to ensure that farmers and institutions that support them are able to prepare for, manage, and recover from adverse weather conditions.

According to Zimudzi, climate-smart agriculture is one such approach that encompasses a broad range of interventions including conservation agriculture that helps to adapt to climate variations.

“FAO is proud to have been in the forefront of supporting governments to build farmers’ capacity in conservation agriculture techniques.

“A key aspect of climate-smart agriculture is the adoption of good agricultural practices – which include using quality inputs at the right time and applying good crop management practices. In addition, use of irrigation, water conservation and harvesting techniques, where feasible, to buffer farmers against unstable rainfall patterns are all important in the face of climate change.

“At the tail-end of the crop production chain is the use of techniques to minimise post-harvest losses – in order to ensure that whatever production farmers realise, it contributes to their food security.

“On the livestock side, there is a need to protect pastoral and agro-pastoral livelihoods and assets; ensure that feed and water for livestock is assured; and the control of animal diseases.

“As climate change intensifies, these kinds of effort need to be intensified at farmer level; as well as at institutional level – in terms of ensuring that the necessary skills, knowledge and systems are in place to support farmers,” Zimudzi explained.