Josef Kefas Sheehama
The agriculture sector is one of the critical segments of the Fifth National Development Plan (NDP5) to advance Namibia’s economic growth.
Therefore, it remains the backbone for sustained economic growth to provide quality livelihoods and a high standard of living for the people. Despite the growth in agricultural production, food security and nutrition remain a concern, especially considering vulnerability to shocks at the household level. Reviving the agricultural sector will require significant investment as public finances become tight. It is therefore vital to attract private sector investment, pushing the sector towards commercialization. Greater private sector participation will require a shift in the role of government from being a market player to becoming a market enabler. In the communal areas, in particular, agricultural production is still largely characterized by subsistence farming practices with low crop yields, high dependence on rainfall and limited access to water. The sector also lacks processing capacity and marketing opportunities for smallholder farmers in rural areas are limited.
Economically, the focus must be on building 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 to 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 the cities. Therefore, an inclusive growth strategy must include investments in urban infrastructure as well as programs to increase urban employment.
At the same time, much remains to be done to increase rural living standards, reduce regional income disparities and reduce the rate of rural-urban migration, while simultaneously increasing agricultural production and improving food security and Nutrition of Namibia. The Namibian government should implement a rural development strategy focusing on large modern farms and family farming. Effective implementation of NDP5 and HPP2 will strengthen Namibia’s position in agriculture. To effect this change, regulatory reforms that define the principles of public investment, establish a framework to attract private investment in the agricultural sector while improving access to finance and improving responsiveness.
Agricultural production must increase accordingly to meet socio-economic and food and nutritional security challenges. Adverse effects on land resources and climate change must be countered by continued efforts to increase sustainable and climate-smart inputs and practices; protect agricultural land from fragmentation, erosion and degradation; and shifting production towards higher value products and introducing land-saving technologies. The production of animal resources has grown in recent years. To further increase production, sustained efforts are needed to introduce improved breeds, source animal feed and control animal diseases. Farmers tend to be vulnerable to risk. There is therefore a need to build resilience and response mechanisms against adverse events in farming communities and provide social protection to vulnerable groups. Achieving these goals requires paying special attention to the poorest and least developed regions that depend mainly on agriculture for their livelihoods. 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 livelihoods.
Experiences from other countries indicate that this proportion will decline as people from rural areas (especially young people) migrate to urban centres. Unless appropriate policies and programs are put in place, rapid rural-urban migration could lead to increased urban unemployment and social discontent, as new migrants join the large numbers of urban poor living in crowded slums with limited access to basic physical and social infrastructure. Therefore, inclusive growth policies for Namibia must 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 centers to facilitate migration. inevitable economic and social transformation towards a more urbanized society.
Agriculture is particularly important because it supports the majority of the poor. Opportunities for rural youth outside of agriculture are limited. Inclusive growth that improves living standards in different regions of the country requires investments in physical infrastructure as well as education to create greater opportunities, especially for young people. Not surprisingly, children in remote rural areas tend to be less well served by the education system than their urban peers. Consequently, they find it more difficult to compete in the labor market. Increasing support for 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 larger farms. This is why they may need greater government support to level the playing field. Collaboration between farmers, input suppliers, processors and traders creates more inclusive markets and positive spillovers when a favorable and transparent legal framework is established, guaranteeing the execution of contracts and therefore trust.
In conclusion, it is important to note that different farmers have different needs. Greater inclusion, 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 for smallholders and family farmers who represent most of the poor in Namibia. At the same time, supporting these farmers and improving their productivity and their connection to markets can lead to increased food production and improved food and nutrition security.
* The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are in no way linked to his employer or its affiliates.