Waiting for the Rain
Windhoek – Drought has not only become part of the weather pattern in southern Africa, but it has also become a norm for this natural hazard to affect one part of the sub-continent or other almost every year.
Recurring droughts for many years have threatened food security in a region already overburdened by the impact of the HIV and AIDS pandemic and high levels of poverty.
This year, authorities in the SADC member states are bracing themselves for the looming disaster as harvest prospects for the 2013 season indicate extremely poor yields.
The latest long-range forecasts suggest the majority of countries in southern Africa received below average rainfall in the last rainy season.
For instance, Botswana is facing an unprecedented drought following erratic rainfall.
Botswana’s 20 000-hectare national food basket, Pandamatenga ‑ a village in North-West District of Botswana, literally has nothing to offer the country.
This farming community usually supplies up to 80 percent of the total grain in Botswana, according to Africa Review.
Last year, the WFP provided assistance to more than 3.5 million people in drought-hit areas of southern Africa, particularly in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
Erratic rainfall during the last planting season in southern Malawi, southern Zimbabwe, and the southern highlands of Lesotho resulted in severe food shortages, while staple food prices are increasing.
Earlier in March 2013, Japan donated US$5.6 million to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to help people facing food shortages due to drought in Zimbabwe.
> Thirsty Land
Being the driest country south of the Sahara, drought has become a common phenomenon to the majority of people in Namibia.
As most staple foods such as pearl millet, maize, wheat, sorghum, are produced under rain-fed conditions – yield is dependent on good rainfall.
With above-average rainfall considered a bonus in Namibia, crop failures are common.
This year, authorities have issued a red alert – for the drought situation. Namibia received little rain during the October to March rainy season, which has resulted in total crop failure and poor grazing across the country.
A comprehensive inter-governmental emergency food security assessment conducted earlier this year has painted a gloomy picture for food security in Namibia.
The drought is expected to be the worst in more than a decade with national grain production estimated to be 42 percent less than last season's yield of 73 000 tonnes.
The production outlook for mahangu (pearl millet) – a staple food in the heavily populated four northern regions – is expected to drop by 41 percent compared to last season’s harvest.
The assessment also revealed a prevailing famine situation in most regions, as most households had already depleted their food stocks in September last year.
The Namibian Agronomic Board has also predicted a poor harvest for dry-land cultivation.
The board has predicted the yield to drop below 5 000 tonnes from the annual average of over 20 000 tonnes. It further forecasts farmers in irrigated zones to struggle to meet normal production of between nine and 10 tonnes per hectare of maize this year.
Poor grazing is threatening livestock across the country, a situation aggravated by lack of drinking water for the animals. The worst affected farmers so far are those in Kunene, Omusati and Omaheke regions.
The drought situation in the northeast, mostly in Caprivi Region, was compounded by flooding which came earlier than expected and has destroyed crops and property.
> State of Emergency
Based on the prospect of poor harvest, President Hifikepunye Pohamba on May 17 declared the prevailing drought situation a national emergency.
“I have come to the conclusion, together with my Cabinet colleagues, that I declare an emergency situation in the country as a result of drought.
“Thus, the necessary interventions must be put in operation to face this emergency.
“As a caring government, it is the duty of the State to ensure that our people do not go hungry.
“It is against this background that measures are put in place to ensure that no Namibian citizen dies of hunger,” the President said during a press conference at State House.
The national emergency declaration came as a result of high-level national stakeholders meeting that was convened by Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob and attended by regional governors and the chairs of regional management councils to map out strategies to deal with the drought situation.
President Pohamba has since appealed to government ministries and agencies as well as regional authorities to ensure that food aid reaches “those who need it most”.
President Pohamba stated that: “We need to put in place short-, medium- and long-term measures so that we prepare ourselves against natural disasters.
“It is possible now that the situation has worsened. Therefore, we should prepare ourselves for the worst case scenario.”
Other measures that can be considered as part of food security, during the emergency according to the President – include strengthening and expansion of safety net programmes such as school feeding programmes, food-for-work and cash-for-work programmes.
With regard to the calls made by livestock farmers for government grazing subsidy – the President stressed that the country cannot afford to provide such subsidy for close to three million livestock in the country.
“I, therefore, appeal to those individuals who have grazing to assist their fellow citizens. I further direct that provision of water in areas where grazing is still available should be made available as a matter outmost urgency,” he said.
He further advised the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to consider culling game as another possible measure to avoid loss of animals to famine.
The President also raised his concerns over the emerging reports of simmering tensions between communities in some parts of the country over grazing land.
“I am aware that the drought situation has, in some parts of our country, resulted in land disputes.
“This must be avoided at all cost. We should attend to the plight of our citizens without regard to their political, tribal, racial, gender or religious background,” said the Head of State.
The last time President Pohamba declared an emergency situation was in March 2011, as a result of floods in the north and north-eastern parts of Namibia.
In 2009, he declared another emergency for the northern regions of Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshikoto including Caprivi in the north-east.
This was after flooding destroyed properties and displaced thousands of people.
> Safe for Now
Namibia is not self-sufficient in terms of staple food – producing about a third of its total food requirements.
The country is food secured mainly through commercial imports of cereal and other food commodities.
Namibia has initiated several programmes aimed at increasing food production, through initiatives such as the green scheme, support to dry land crop production and the national horticulture development initiative.
These programmes are co-ordinated under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
Agriculture minister, John Mutorwa, is optimistic that the country can weather the drought storm for several months ahead.
Mutorwa said now there is enough stock in strategic grain reserves to kick-start the food relief programme.
Mutorwa told The Southern Times upon enquiry regarding food security in Namibia amid the prevailing drought that: “For now and the foreseeable future, we have enough maize in our silos.
“But I am not sure about the future as the situation progresses, especially from February next year.” The Government has constructed silos for mahangu and maize in Kavango, Caprivi, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati regions, which can hold a combined 18 000 tonnes. Minister Mutorwa said the silos are full to capacity.
Additional silos with a combined capacity of 9 000 tonnes will be constructed soon to bring the total reserve storage capacity for Namibia to 27 000 tonnes. The food relief programme is the responsibility of the Directorate of Emergency Management in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The agriculture minister explained that the emergency directorate will rely on the grain stored in the silos for the food relief programme and only after the domestic stocks are depleted – will they consider importing maize.