Through its Agriculture Project, the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia (MCA-N) has embarked on improving agricultural benefits while promoting sustainable agricultural practices in Namibia.
This is being undertaken through active training of local farmers and stakeholders. Thus, MCA-N is working hard towards reforming the local agricultural industry to improve product quality and outputs.
Since the early 1960s, Namibia’s rural agricultural growth has been severely hampered by the veterinary cordon fence (VCF), also known as the red-line, which effectively controls the movement of livestock in order to protect the South from animal diseases.
The northern parts of the country, where the majority of famers live, have for decades been severely affected, thus limiting their access to international beef markets. This has thereby negatively affected their income levels and livelihoods.
This resulted in lower carcass value of livestock from that zone. It eventually led to the majority of livestock owners in the North primarily rearing animals for subsistence, leaving them with little incentives to adopt modern technology or management methods.
One of MCA-N’s goals is to enhance the performance of the livestock sector, including doing away with the red-line altogether.
The Director of Agriculture at MCA-N, Dr Helmke Sartorius von Bach asserts, livestock that are controlled in the parameters of the red-line have often been found to be disease-free. However, more needs to be done to fully convince the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) of this fact.
OIE is the regulatory body for which the red-line is important to distinguish between the animal disease-prone northern part and the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-free southern part of Namibia.
MCA-N’s priority is to help livestock farmers improve their financial security through income generation for the education of their children or for general investment activities. The aim, therefore, is to change the farmers’ perception to utilise their livestock resources as a contributor to their source of income.
The MCA-N grant funding does this through livestock training, rangeland activities and support in marketing and animal infrastructure. This is specifically done through Community-Based Rangeland and Livestock Management (CBRLM) activities, which include sustainable pasture utilisation in grazing cattle herds according to a pre-defined grazing pattern.
“Community-Based Rangeland and Livestock Management is a pilot project through which we involve different communities in the respective areas. We support them by placing households and their livestock into groups. That’s because we are stronger together than we are as individuals. We empower them through decision making programmes in marketing, input and upgrading their livestock’s genetic pools. This training is closely associated with community mobilisation,” von Bach explains.
However, he is frustrated over the shortage of adequate agricultural infrastructure and poor animal composition (e.g. the imbalance in bull to cow ratio) in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs). He says both factors slow down progress.
Another challenging aspect in the North, according to von Bach, is the lack of marketing platforms in the form of auctions. “We had to invest in training auctioneers as well as facilitate the auctions,” he laments.
Although a lot of groundwork must be established to begin reversing the situation in the NCAs, von Bach acknowledges the fact that more stakeholders need to assist Government in training extension officers in various aspects of animal husbandry, as has been done by MCA-N. That is because Government support does not significantly reach livestock farmers in the North at the moment.
Apart from investing in State Veterinary Offices for the regions where there are no regional outlets like Outapi, Omuthiya, Eenhana, enabling farmers to get support from veterinarians through the health support and enabling the veterinarians to be close to the farmers in the process, can also be done.
“Our traceability support of attaching ear tags with readable radio frequency chips to cattle has helped local veterinarians to identify animals in reference to their locations, sexes, ownership and whether or not they have been vaccinated,” von Bach highlights.
“MCA-N is hopeful that by August this year, the Namibian Livestock Identification and Traceability System (NamLITS), which was initially developed for the South, will have merged the animals of the South with those of the North into one livestock database system,” he adds.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry (MAWF), MCA-N funds a study dedicated to paving the way for implementing procedures that will eventually allow it to apply for an FMD-free status. As such, livestock specialists and strategists are currently working on how to get the red-line removed.
The MCA-N Agriculture Director is convinced that these measures can unleash enormous economic potential: “There are almost two million unutilised cattle, yet livestock farming is the quickest and easiest income earner. It contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), which we can all ultimately benefit from.”
The current off-take - which is the number of animals being utilised for economic gain - in the NCAs is 3% of two million cattle.
Von Bach believes even a slight rise from the three to six or 7% could have multiple effects on job creation.
MCA-N, whose five-year contract ends in September 2014, has so far fast-tracked Government programmes; conducting its activities in such a way that there will be continuity even when it is gone.
Von Bach thus reassures the wary public that the familiar village methods will not be tampered with through commercialisation.
He concludes, “If the rural way of doing things works for rural farmers, then great, there’s no need to seek work in Windhoek or other cities. It is, however, a challenge to change farmers’ mentality. Our farmers need to understand that cattle can generate income and do not just exist to be slaughtered during feasts. Our theme is ‘Poverty Reduction through Economic Growth’.” PF