To equip students with an inside-out understanding of the agriculture sector, the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) keeps upgrading its curriculum to fit the job market demands.
As such, the agriculture department has [this year] revised its curriculum and thus introduced an honour’s degree course in agriculture management and another one in sustainable agriculture, as well as a Master’s in agri-business.
It has also introduced a horticulture packaged course (bachelor in science, an honour’s and a Master’s of science). With this horticulture programme, PoN aims to make sure students do not just have a broad concept of agriculture as a discipline but also have the liberty to specialise in its specific areas.
The head of department (HoD), Salomo Mbai, emphasises that by diversifying courses in his department, they develop graduates’ passion for entrepreneurial and innovative mindsets. In the process, they hope to improve human capital needs that, in turn, will contribute to the country’s economic development.
Agriculture is one of the country’s economic priority sectors meant to drive the Vision 2030 goals, as stated in the fourth national development plan (NDP4). But it can only be strengthened through the right educational skills.
Mbai adds that over the years, students’ applications in his department have increased. According to him, this goes to show students’ interest in agriculture, even though there is limited space for admission at this point.
Although there are plans to expand it, the department, which employs a staff of 15, receives 110 students annually.
These students are mandated to go through a five-month practical work to gain the necessary knowledge. Thus, they are always involved in the various projects PoN conducts.
Some of the field work students get involved in include working with resettled farmers. They help them increase their productivity by moving resettled and emerging farmers from subsistence to commercial business people.
Concerned with the drought currently experienced in the country, Mbai notes that the natural disaster is impacting on the socio-economic system.
“Farmers now have to sell cattle that would normally cost between N$5000 and N$6000 at N$300!” He laments, adding: “The drought also implies a lower harvest, which will cause more dependency on food imports. It further impacts on the repayment of loans by farmers because they are not getting any returns at the moment. Overall, the whole ecological system is likely to be damaged, which could ultimately impact on the performance of the tourism industry.”
According to him, there are three measures that need to be taken into account when managing the drought.
The first one would be to take radical channels before it actually happens. These would include implementing a yearly climatology focus system, with a team of experts who can manage the flow of climate information data. This team’s purpose would be to project the climate for those who require related information to make management decisions or for applied research.
It would then be necessary to disseminate the information derived from such a system to all the players who would be affected by the projected climate through the right channels.
“It would have to be verified information as the contrary would be detrimental to any plan making. Such information would help farmers and cultivators plan ahead,” Mbai insists.
The second measure would be managing the drought while it has already occurred, as it is currently.
“It is necessary to reduce the impact of the situation at hand by creating the right marketing plan to ensure the affected farmers receive the right prices for their livestock,” he explains.
Government recently implemented a N$218m relief plan as an incentive to pay farmers so they can sell their livestock, lease grazing land and drill more than 200 boreholes.
After the drought, all the industry players should not relax. Rather, they should take into stock the whole impact the drought has had on various economic sectors.
This information would be useful to policy makers, he says. He thus suggests that Government uses that time to review its drought policy.
He insists, any measure - be it from Government, the key players or stakeholders - would be beneficial as long as it is proactive and not reactive.
Mbai also emphasises on the fact that a national database survey should always be done preferably between July and October every year. This, he says, would record several factors, including the number of livestock and the farmer, as well as the database, which would come in handy when co-ordinating plans.
In this regard, PoN is working on a proposal expected to roll out soon for a database survey.
On the other hand, he asserts that not everything about the drought should be seen with dark spectacles because there might be a positive side to it that everyone is not exploring yet.
“Sometimes nature has a way of dealing with itself. Instead of focusing on the negative side of it, we should be exploring certain facts that bring out the possibilities within the drought,” he says.
One of the facts he points out is that livestock cannot graze during drought because the soil would be going through a resting period, which is always needed.
A worn out, depleted soil is normally farmers’ and cultivators’ major concern because at certain points, the crops will not yield even when fertilisers are used. Therefore, it is always advisable to give the soil ‘some rest’ - which is what is currently happening.
Mbai also says the livestock born during this period and survive usually develop into strong, disease-resistant animals. Such livestock usually adapt easily to arid conditions.
Another factor that needs avoiding during this period are the field fires that normally occur towards the month of July, causing wildlife and livestock deaths. Such fires usually last when there is grass. So the good news is, they will be limited this year because of the lack of grass. PF