By Josef Kefas Sheehama
The Namibia Agriculture Policy stands as a comprehensive framework that can effectively guide the alignment of existing policies, laws, and regulations. This policy serves as a foundational reference for designing programs and projects that will direct the growth of the agricultural sector.
According to the Namibia Merchandise Trade Statistics Bulletin, between June 2022 and June 2023, Namibia imported rice amounting to N$340.8 million. This surge in trade imports underscores existing market gaps that persist as the nation strives to enhance its food production capabilities. This challenge is particularly significant given the prevalent food insecurity experienced by various communities.
To address this, the green scheme program has been introduced, promoting the development of irrigated production across approximately 27,000 hectares situated along perennial rivers and strategic inland areas with abundant water resources. Eleven green scheme projects have been established, including the Orange River, Hardap, Etunda, Musese, Sikondo, Uvungu-Vungu, Ndonga-Linena, Mashare, Shadikongoro, Kalimbeza, and Shitemo farms. Among these, the Zambezi and the two Kavango regions are identified as pivotal hubs for enhancing food security within Namibia.
Relying heavily on external sources, especially South Africa, for various necessities, including food, poses considerable economic risks. The existing 11 green schemes have faced financial underfunding, causing several projects to stall. AgriBusDev, tasked with overseeing these government green schemes under the Ministry of Agriculture, holds the mandate to ensure their sustainability and economic viability. It’s important to recognize that achieving agricultural prosperity and fulfilling national objectives doesn’t solely rest on the government; active participation from the farming community and private sector collaboration is equally vital.
While the practice of irrigation is central to driving a successful green revolution that aligns with sustainable development goals for food security and socio-economic growth, Namibia’s irrigation efforts have yet to attain set targets despite significant investments. The Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform has undertaken a review of the Green Schemes, revealing persistent hindrances like inconsistent policies, inadequate political commitment, low awareness, and insufficient technical expertise among responsible management, coupled with untimely financial interventions. The lack of full-time involvement by top leadership has also led to the underutilization and abandonment of large-scale irrigation systems.
To effectively achieve food security and socio-economic development through green scheme practices, it’s imperative to establish appropriate policy frameworks, leverage suitable technology, raise farmer awareness, and incorporate them into the decision-making process. Challenges such as poor management, insufficient socio-coordination, market issues, and limited technical skills at the user level currently hinder green scheme practices.
Nevertheless, amidst these challenges, sustainable irrigation practices can create jobs and enhance the economic status of individuals in the agricultural sector. With a dedicated budget allocation of about N$2.4 billion for the agriculture sector in FY2023/24, addressing the increasing population’s demand for food products becomes a critical concern. Rising imports, particularly highlighted by the significant import cost of rice in 2022/2023, emphasize the need for sustainable irrigation practices to bolster agricultural productivity and curtail import expenditures.
For instance, the Kalimbeza Rice Project in the Zambezi Region remains inactive due to funding constraints. The project received a bailout in 2020, with the Ministry of Agriculture investing N$7.1 million to sustain it. Alleged mismanagement by AGIBUSDEV led to government intervention in the Green Scheme.
In the context of these challenges, the focus should shift toward enhancing the performance of various irrigation schemes throughout the nation. This necessitates investing in green schemes without debate, prioritizing practical solutions to overcome issues. Recognizing the significant role of irrigation development for food security and economic growth, the government should adapt lessons from successful international examples like China, the United States, India, as well as African counterparts like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and South Africa.
Moreover, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform should embrace flexible approaches to policy changes and reforms. Continued research, education, and effective governance are essential to capitalize on reform opportunities when timing is optimal. Encouragingly, the National Policy on Work-integrated Learning for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), supported by the Namibia Training Authority, offers a pathway for skills development.
Ultimately, Namibia’s agricultural sector requires substantial reforms and increased public investments to achieve sustainable green schemes, reduce poverty, and foster economic growth. To achieve these objectives, developing skills and knowledge stands as a pivotal strategy. As highlighted through the review and revaluation of Green Scheme irrigated agriculture projects, monitoring and evaluation should be more integrated into management processes, with an emphasis on local farm managers.
In conclusion, persevering despite setbacks and making decisions aligned with long-term goals may demand courage, but it’s crucial for sustained development. Collaborative efforts between the government and the private sector, especially in vital areas like infrastructure and long-term investments, can expedite progress.
Amidst these challenges, better policies for green schemes hold immense potential to address food security, nutrition, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability. As lessons are drawn from global counterparts, particularly successful cases like China, the United States, India, and African nations like Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and South Africa, Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water, and Land Reform must recognize the importance of adaptable reforms and increased public investments to foster growth. By investing in skills development and embracing innovation, Namibia can forge a path towards sustainable agricultural success.