Josef Kefas Sheehama
The agricultural sector is one of the critical segments in the Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5) to advance Namibia’s economic growth.
Hence, it remains the backbone for sustained economic growth to provide quality livelihoods, and high living standards for the population. Despite the growth in agricultural production, food security and nutrition remain concerns, especially when looking at the vulnerability to shocks at the household level. Turning the agricultural sector around will require substantial investment while public finances are getting scarce. It is therefore vital to attract investments from the private sector, driving the sector toward commercialisation. Greater private sector participation will require a shift in the role of the government from being a market actor to becoming a market enabler. In communal areas, in particular, agricultural production is still largely characterised by subsistence farming practices with low crop yields, a high dependency on rainfall and limited water access. The sector also lacks processing capacities, and marketing opportunities for smallholder farmers in rural areas are limited.
On the economic side, the focus needs to be on enhancing inclusiveness and ensuring that the benefits of growth are widely shared. The impacts of the drought in 2018/19 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 revealed the need to improve the resilience of smallholder farmers and agribusinesses towards external shocks, in order to ensure sustainability. Experience from around the world indicates that as Namibia continues to grow, more and more people will migrate from the countryside to cities. Hence, an inclusive growth strategy needs to include investments in urban infrastructure as well as programs to increase urban employment.
At the same time, more needs to be done to increase rural living standards, reduce regional income differentials and lower the rate of rural-urban migration, while concomitantly increasing agricultural production and enhancing Namibia’s food and nutrition security. The government of Namibia should implement a rural development strategy with focuses on large modern farms and family farming. The effectiveness of implementing NDP5 and HPP2 will strengthen Namibia’s position in agriculture. To make this shift, regulatory reforms which define the principles of public investment, lay out a framework for attracting private investment to the agricultural sector while enhancing access to finance, and enhancing responsiveness.
Agricultural production must increase accordingly in order to meet socio-economic and food and nutrition security issues. The adverse effects on land resources and climate change must be countered with continued efforts to increase inputs and sustainable climate smart practices; protecting agricultural land against fragmentation, erosion, and degradation; and shifting production toward higher-value products and introducing land-saving technologies. Animal resources production has seen growth in recent years. To increase production further, sustained effort is required toward introducing improved breeds, sourcing animal feed, and fighting animal diseases. Farmers tend to be vulnerable to risk. It is therefore required to build resilience and response mechanisms against adverse events in farming communities and provide social protection for vulnerable groups. Achieving these objectives requires paying particular attention to poorer and less developed regions that mainly depend on agriculture for livelihood. Rural poverty in Namibia is about three times higher than urban poverty, and the majority of the rural poor depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood.
The experiences of other countries indicate that this proportion will fall as rural dwellers (particularly youth) migrate to urban centres. Unless appropriate policies and programs are put in place, rapid rural-urban migration could lead to increasing urban unemployment and social discontent, as new migrants join the large number of urban poor living in overcrowded shanty towns with little access to basic physical and social infrastructure. Therefore, inclusive growth policies for Namibia need to include agriculture and rural development to slow migration out of rural areas, as well as investments in other sectors of the economy and in urban centres to facilitate the inevitable economic and social transformation towards a more urbanised society.
Agriculture is particularly important because it provides a livelihood for the majority of the poor. Opportunities for rural youth outside of agriculture are limited. Inclusive growth that improves living standards across the different regions of the country requires investments in physical infrastructure as well as in education to create greater opportunities, especially for youth. Unsurprisingly, children in remote rural areas tend to be less well served by the educational system than their urban peers. Hence, they have a harder time competing in the labour market. Increasing support to small family farmers does not mean ignoring large modern farms. Both are important for growth and food security. Smallholders tend to face greater challenges than large farms. That is why they may require greater government support in order to level the playing field. Collaboration between farmers, input suppliers, processors, and traders create more inclusive markets and positive spillovers when an enabling and transparent legal framework is laid out, ensuring contract enforcement and thus trust.
In conclusion, it is important to note that different farmers have different needs. Greater inclusiveness so that all Namibians share in the benefits of economic growth would help ensure continued success and economic and social stability. Economic inclusion and poverty reduction require support to smallholder and family farmers who represent most of the poor in Namibia. At the same time, supporting those farmers and enhancing their productivity and their linkage to markets can lead to increased food production and improved food and nutrition security.
* The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author alone and are in no way linked to his employer or any affiliates.