WINDHOEK, May 17 — Tuhafeni Erastus, a subsistence farmer in the Omusati region in north-central Namibia, recalled a recent occasion when marauding elephants invaded her field in the evening time, destroying the rain-fed pearl millet crops.
“I prayed that elephants would spare me a few crops. But my hope for better yields toward harvest time in May this year was shattered,” Erastus said Tuesday.
Dwellers in a far-flung village are counting losses to human-wildlife conflict, which remains a persistent problem in Namibia, where wild animals such as elephants, lions, jackals, and leopards live near communities.
“I invested so much to plough and toil the land. With all crops damaged, there are no returns for us as a family,” she added.
Over the past five years, communities outside the conservancies suffered significant losses to wildlife. Between 2018 and 2022, wild animals destroyed crops covering 97.75 hectares of land in communities outside conservancies in the north-central Omusati, Ohangwena, and Oshikoto regions, according to Rehabeam Erckie, deputy director for Wildlife and National Parks in the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism.
Locals also cite livestock, mainly cattle, donkeys, goats, horses, and sheep, being killed or injured by wildlife, including predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas.
Traditional methods, such as chasing predators away with a stick, no longer work because they may result in fatalities. Government records show that since 2019, 54 people have been injured and 33 others killed due to human-wildlife conflict.
“We live in constant fear. Today are the crops, and you wonder when your loved one is next,” Erastus said.
Despite the challenges faced, the farmers said they are not giving up. In addition to building stronger fences, they are exploring approaches to counter losses.
“Perhaps to start a small vegetable garden inside the spacious houses to supplement or compensate for crop losses,” Mateus Shivute, another subsistence farmer in Tsandi Constituency in Omusati region.
Meanwhile, the ministry has developed a variety of measures and strategies to mitigate the impact of human-wildlife conflict. These include managing the increasing amount of wildlife across the country, putting down problem animals, and providing water to game and communities.
“We also built protective fences and further increased water points and troughs for the elephants to reduce the human-wildlife conflict,” Erckie said.
The ministry also implements the policy on human-wildlife conflict management, which makes provision to offset farmers for verified losses to wildlife.
Since 2009, the government has spent about 41.8 million Namibian dollars (about 2.2 million U.S. dollars) as compensation for human-wildlife conflict-related matters.
Experts also met to discuss this at the recently held human-wildlife conflict conference in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
“We have since come up with mitigation plans to address this, such as setting up water points,” Erckie said.
The ministry also enforces policies on wildlife protection and undertakes robust education about the importance of wildlife and conservation. (Xinhua)