Hunger Season Reaches Its Peak – Agriculture

FOOD shortage remains a challenge for rural Namibians as the hunger season reaches its peak, following the severe drought, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has revealed in its Crop Prospect and Food Security Situation Report.

The report worryingly revealed that the majority of households interviewed indicated that their last season’s poor harvest only lasted until July and August last year and that they are heavily dependent on the market and government drought relief food.

“Farmers reported that poor rainfall performance was seen in the forms of sporadic, erratic and insufficient rainfall in the first half of the season as well as serious prolonged dry spells in January and most of February. Poor rainfall performance was felt more in the northern central regions, resulting in poor crop germinations and wilting of crops and subsequently poor expected crop harvest,” stated the document.

The report also indicated that regional council offices in the regions cited that the number of households and people facing food insecurity is on the increase compared to the supply of drought relief food received in the region.

The report found that the rainfall pattern for the 20132014 rainy season showed mixed performance with above normal rainfall confined in the north east, central and some parts in the south.

“Elsewhere, the cumulative performance of the season depicts near normal to below normal rainfall. In contrast, the north central regions reported poor rainfall performance, which according to farmers, has been sporadic, erratic and insufficient in the first half of the season with serious prolonged dry spells in January and most of February, affecting both crop and livestock production,” highlighted the report.

The report comes just after the Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi revealed that over 126 children at Grootfontein were admitted to hospital between July and September last year due to malnutrition with three deaths that occurred in the same time period. Earlier this year, five more children reportedly also died from malnutrition since January at the same town.

However, the ministry says heavier falls relative to normal were experienced as from the end of February and most of March 2014.

The ministry also revealed that provisional crop estimates indicated a slight improvement in the expected harvest better than last season, but still below average. The outlook indicated that all communal crop producing regions are expecting below average harvest, following poor rainfall performance coupled with damages by American Bollworms.

“National cereal production is provisionally forecasted at 122 390 tons, reflecting an increase of 50% from last season’s harvest but yet 2% below average. Much of this improvement comes from the commercial areas where most of the production is under irrigation,” it stated.

According to the report, livestock conditions in most regions have improved from poor to good, except in Kunene region and some areas in Karas region where the situation is reported to range between poor and fair. The ministry said that at the time of this assessment, no major livestock disease outbreaks were reported.

Reinforcement of foodcash-for-work programme in the regions to target households without access to land for cultivation and livestock in order to provide them with a temporary safety net. In addition, these activities could be broadened to include less labour-intensive activities such as gardening, fruit tree planting, and animal husbandry and can be extended to include the rest of the country. The production activities would improve access to micro-nutrient rich fruits, which could greatly benefit the rural poor and HIV-infected people.

The ministry recommended that food aids, especially to the most vulnerable groups affected by food deficits, should be considered, while awaiting the outcomes of the post-harvest Crop Assessment and Vulnerability Assessment missions.

It also recommends that the Directorate of Research and Training as well as Directorate of Extension and Engineering Services should consider the possibility of producing improved seeds under irrigation for the next cropping season.

“Farmers in areas affected by poor grazing conditions should take the necessary precautionary measures such as de-stocking while livestock are in good condition to avoid a complete loss,” the report recommended.

Source : The Namibian