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Namibia: Shocking statistics could spell severe drought

01 March 2007, New Era
URL: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/EKOI-6YV3PS?OpenDocument


WINDHOEK: Fickle rain patterns this season might result in the country facing severe drought, an economist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has warned. Lesley Losper, who recently returned from a field trip where crop assessments were done, yesterday told New Era that the situation as it stands is worrisome.

The major concern with regard to this agriculture season is the prevailing dry conditions in especially the northern parts of the country. The north-central regions, namely Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto, have not received rain for quite a long time. The five regions form the food basket of Namibia.

As a result of this prolonged dry spell, there has not been much activity in terms of planting, Losper said.

Based on the findings in these five crop-producing areas, most crops are still in what Losper termed their infancy stages.

Shocking statistics reveal that about 60 percent of the crops are only emerging now, and the remaining 40 percent are still being planted or still have to emerge.

Traditionally, crop-planting starts as early as November 15, which was not the case for this season. During visits conducted every year in early February by a team comprising members from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry as well as officials from the emergency unit in the office of the Prime Minister, crops are by now expected to have reached a vegetative stage.

The agriculture economist warned that "if it does not rain next month, then there is trouble coming. Severe drought can be expected".

Most of the farmers in these areas are traditional and thus could not start ploughing in November as first rains only started in December 2006. With the dry spell that has badly hit most parts of the country, starting from November all the way to the end of December, planting of seeds was delayed.

A glance at the Kavango Region shows that the situation is strikingly similar.

No germination has taken place in the fields of those planted, and some of the farmers could experience seed shortages, and rescue can only come from those who had good yields during the previous farming season.

Except for the Caprivi region, the other four regions received rains late. Unlike during the good years when rains start around November, most areas only received rains towards the end of December 2006.
Farmers who planted in December unfortunately had all their crops wilted, a situation that was catalysed by a dry spell that hit early January 2007, he said.

The Caprivi Region, where farmers received fairly good rains, is likely to have a good harvest. However, these farmers are threatened by the floods currently being experienced in that area.

"The crops in the Caprivi Region are in good condition. The problem will only come if Lake Liambezi is flooded, otherwise good harvests should be expected at least in that region," Losper said.

According to Losper, it all depends on the rain patterns in the coming months. If it rains in March, millet would survive especially for farmers using early-maturing seeds. If it does not rain, severe draught can be expected, he reiterated.

The animals at most farms are similarly affected, especially because grass for grazing has not yet picked up due to lack of sufficient rain. Most areas experienced veld fires late last year, and grass for grazing is still to grow.

"Animals are going to suffer this year because even the water catchments are still dry," he added.

In previous years, water catchments would by this time already be full with rainwater, but this year it is not the case. The team expect to be back in the field for further assessments. Should the situation paint the same picture, the emergency unit will have to make a decision on further action.

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