Agro-processing can reduce dependency on food imports

Windhoek-The ago-processing sector within the agricultural industry offers significant potential to increase value addition, create employment, provides income and export opportunities to enhance food security and reduce dependency on imports.

This is according to Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa, who yesterday emphasised the importance of ensuring that government's objective of increased primary production and value addition in the agricultural sector and ago-industry in the country is achievable in line with the Growth at Home Strategy.

Speaking at the Bank of Namibia's 18th Annual Symposium in Windhoek yesterday, Mutorwa noted that Namibia cannot grow the agricultural sector without improving agro-processing and that this can in turn enhance the quality and demand for the country's agricultural products.

Agro-processing is described as a subset of manufacturing that processes raw materials and intermediate products derived from the agricultural sector.

Very few agro-processed products from Namibia are exported. The country is a net exporter of unprocessed agro-products, especially from the livestock sector, said Mutorwa at the symposium, themed 'Feeding Namibia: Agricultural Productivity and Industrialisation'.

He added that agriculture operates in a highly dynamic environment, where climate and market conditions vary from time to time.

Furthermore, it should be noted that producers and processors do share the position of government in the drive to beneficiation through value addition, provided that the price they fetch for their livestock and livestock products will not be below the cost of production, in order to make their farming and value addition profitable and sustainable in the long-term, he said.

Namibia's agricultural sector plays a crucial role in alleviating poverty and ensuring food security, both at household and national level. About 70 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on the sector for food, income and livelihood.

For this reason, the sector has been singled out as one of the priority sectors that should be harnessed to bring about much-needed socio-economic development and improvement to the majority of Namibians.

Despite numerous challenges, such as a severe drought and subdued economic conditions, agriculture and forestry's contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose from N$3.6 billion in 2015 to N$3.7 billion in 2016, representing 3.3 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.

According to the 2016 National Labour Force Survey, the agricultural sector was the highest employer in the country with more than 135,800 people employed therein, accounting for just over 20 percent of the entire labour force.

However, most of these jobs are in primary production.

The sector has been characterised by low levels of productivity, which can be attributed to poor rainfall, limited access to relevant technology, availability of credit and limited technical expertise.

This is clearly manifested in the fact that Namibia imports about 70 percent of its food requirements. This, coupled with high levels of inflation, calls for appropriate interventions to ensure increased food production and availability of food on a sustainable basis, said Mutorwa.

Welcoming delegates to yesterday's symposium, Bank of Namibia Governor, Iipumbu Shiimi, noted that agriculture's contribution to GDP declined from four percent in 2008 to 3.5 percent in 2016 and averaged only 4.2 percent over the same period. In terms of growth, Shiimi pointed out that the sector contracted by an average 2.2 percent between 2008 and 2016.

I believe we have an opportunity to transform the agricultural sector and agro-processing industries, reduce food imports and increase exports, such as meat. These would establish a strong foundation for economic growth, poverty reduction and improve our external balance. We have an opportunity to feed our nation and create shared prosperity for our children and grandchildren.

Source: New Era Newspaper Namibia