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Namibia’s agric sector lagging in the application of modern agricultural production and processing technologies- Schlettwein

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Minister of Agriculture, Water and Land reform Calle Schlettwein said Namibia should stop relying on basic consumables from elsewhere and use monetary reserves for staple food imports.

He said this at the opening of a two-day agriculture conference in Windhoek.

Recommendations from the conference will form part of the private sector’s input in the Agri-food Sector Strategy document formulated with the technical assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Schlettwein said the current global economic downturn, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and climate variability have negatively impacted economies around the world, including Namibia’s.

He said these challenges are exacerbated by the fact that Namibia’s agriculture sector lags far behind in the application of modern agricultural production and processing technologies.

“These difficult times have caused some trading partner countries to impose export restrictions and prohibitions on staple grain foods and other essential products such as medicine and medical equipment,” he said.

The country can no longer rely on the supply of basic commodities from elsewhere, he said.

Namibia should also not rely on monetary reserves to procure staple food imports to compensate for local shortages, he said.

Schlettwein said the country must instead optimally utilise available resources to boost local agriculture production.

He said productivity has been on the decline for the last 15 years, which means less efficiency, high production costs, and weaker competitiveness.

“The big cogs that must be turned in the opposite direction to improve productivity are innovation, education and skills development. Currently, outcomes are not only weak but also not aligned with market demands. To grow the economy it is therefore also structural reform that is needed in these sectors,” he said.

The agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors registered another contraction of 2,6% in 2019 compared to a decline of 1,9% in 2018.

The decline in 2019 was predominantly driven by both crop farming and the livestock subsectors that recorded contractions in real value added of 13,5% and 6,7%, respectively. The overall gross domestic product (GDP) share of the agricultural sector now stands at only 3,9% – down from about 7% in 2006.

Schlettwein said the country’s economy is a consumption-led economy, depending up to about 60% on public consumption.

When public consumption drops, growth disappears, he said.

“Secondly, as an economy that consumes what it does not produce (finished goods and services), and produces what it does not consume (primary commodities such as minerals, fish and other raw materials), stimulating the economy by higher public consumption does not cut it. Structural reform and significant investments in the productive sector are required,” he said.

He said that the economy must be turned into an investment-led and export-driven economy with domestic and regional value chains adding value to available raw materials.

Quality finished goods and services should become our tradable products, not only primary goods.

Chairperson of the agriculture conference, Michael Iyambo said agricultural transformation is about more than changes in farming practices, adding that it is about catalysing the transformation of a country’s rural economy.

For transformation to succeed, there must be a common understanding of the plan, stakeholder roles, and approach to the management of the process, he said.

At the highest level, key government ministries, the local and international private sectors, and donors must be aligned.

“Approaching transformations with an investor mindset is critical to the success of the process. In kick-starting agricultural transformation, coordination among government, donors, and civil society is critical, but it is equally important from the start to plan for the private-sector engagement,” he said.

“… a catalyst is required to make sure Namibia is shockproof to external forces,” Iyambo said.

According to the Namibia Labour Force Survey of 2018, the agricultural sector is the largest employer by far.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounted for about 167 242 people or 15,3% of the total Namibian workforce.