Drought preparedness in communal areas
By Dr Axel Rothague
Founder of AgriConsult Namibia
The 2017/18 rainy season is turning out differently. In many parts of Namibia, especially in communal areas, it is dry to very dry.
If we do not receive significant rainfall by February, we are likely to experience a drought and farmers should switch from production to survival mode.
Because of the likely severity of the situation, for now I will park the bush control series to help farmers prepare for the looming drought.
Who manages the grazing land?
How much a farmer can do to prepare for and survive a drought depends on how much management control he has over his land, the source of production.
Unfortunately, over 95% of local livestock farmers have no exclusive management control over their grazing resources. These are communal farmers and farmers that were resettled under the group resettlement scheme.
It does not make sense for communal farmers to save some of their grazing resource or to defer grazing in certain areas to protect the forage for a later day, e.g. a drought, because other farmers can simply come along with their animals and graze the saved grass.
There is currently no way such “grazing repositioning” can be prevented legally and thus, communal farmers cannot control access to their grazing resource.
As a result, farmers in these areas tend to deplete their grazing resource as quickly as possible before someone else depletes it for them.
It’s a completely rational, short-term farming decision even if it leads to widespread suffering, environmental degradation and perpetuates rural poverty.
If we don’t like this outcome, we can adjust some of the policies that regulate this behaviour.
The decisions will be unpopular because they temporarily deprive some farming communities of what little grazing resource is left, to benefit them in the medium- and long-term, i.e. they inflict short-term pain for long-term gain.
This would require a courageous government secured by a huge mandate from the electorate to do what it takes to develop the country, including pulling communal farming into the mainstream agricultural economy.