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by Jaco Cilliers
Some parts of Namibia did not have sufficient rain for the past seven years. It became a national crisis, and in May this year the President declared the whole country a disaster area due to the persisting drought. The whole country is suffering, from Ovamboland all the way down to the Southern border with the RSA.
Hansie Esterhuyse, Chairman of the Karasberge Farmers Union, said that on his farm he lost more than 200 ewes due to the drought this year. “I had 210 springbucks on my farm, now there are only eight left,” said Hansie.
The drought affects the farming community is various ways. Due to the drought, there is a feed shortage which means that the feed prices have increased dramatically. A bale of lucerne that used to cost R80 is now R165 and a 50 kg bag of maize that used to be R180 is now R240. “The other problem is that if I order feed from South Africa today, I have to wait five to eight weeks for delivery,” Hansie stated. He also said that in an effort to assist the farmers, the Namibian government made the purchasing and import of feed tax-free.
Various companies organised fund raising projects to assist the farmers with feed. Recently Engen donated an amount of R3 million to the drought relief fund. The NAU (Namibian Agricultural Union) and the regional farmers’ associations are doing what they can to assist farmers with feed for their animals. Farmers receive subsidies to the amount of R50/bag of feed that they purchase.
A joint initiative between the Namibian Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG), the charcoal industry, the Namibian Farmers’ Union (NFU) and the Namibian Emerging Commercial Farmers’ Union (NECFU) has also almost reached their target of R10 million to assist the drought stricken farmers.
Farmers cannot afford to feed large herds with the escalating feed prices, and it is estimated that 50 to 60% of livestock have either already been slaughtered or sold to South African farmers.
Many farmers have sold all their animals and are waiting for the rains to start farming again. Some farmers who still have bonds on their farms are facing eviction because they fell behind with their payments due to the drought. According to Hansie, the whole community is suffering, not only the farmers. “The farmers supported other businesses in the towns, but now that the farmers do not have money, the shop owners are also struggling,” he explains.
It seems that the dairy farms are some of worst hit farms. The industry has virtually grinded to a halt because of the drought. If cows cannot eat properly, they also cannot produce enough milk. The high cost of feed and low milk production has made profitability nearly impossible for the dairy farmers.
The availability of potable water is getting worse in areas such as Mariental, where the water level of the Hardap Dam has reached an all-time low of 18%.
Recently some areas have received rain. Aus had 24 mm of rain and, as Hansie explains, the desert is thankful. “It does not take a lot of rain for the grass to grow,” he says. The regular rainy season usually lasts from late in January to May, but there may be some rain during September/October.
Many farmers must transport water from other places because their boreholes have dried up. The transport involved to bring feed and water to the animals is costing the farmers a lot of money. This is going result in rising meat prices that will affect consumers. Drought is indeed a problem that affects every citizen of a country, not only the farming community.
The farmers are desperate for relief from the persisting drought. The fact that some rain fell in other areas such as the Northern Cape in South Africa and the southern regions of Angola gives the Namibians hope for next year’s rain season.