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Agricultural sector calls for policy security

Ryno van der Merwe

THE agricultural industry wants policies governing the sector to provide security in addition to having a value addition chain that is internationally competitive.

The sector also aims for better development, while seeking growth opportunities that can make it successful in creating jobs.

This was said by the president of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), Ryno van der Merwe, at the agricultural outlook conference 2018 that took place yesterday.

He said by seeking new opportunities, it would be the industry’s responsibility to contribute to the government efforts to alleviate poverty.

The conference took place under the theme ‘Ignite Growth in Agriculture: The basis for job-creation and value-addition’.

Van der Merwe reiterated that the sector needs a conducive environment to create jobs, and to make sure there are willing investors in the farming industry.

He was referring to the fact that this is one of the four factors influencing the agricultural and farming sectors. The other factors are the political environment, marketing and natural resources.

He said these four factors influenced the decision-making of producers or farmers, adding that the sector also needs political stability and peace.

“Therefore, we can say thank you to our government because since independence, we enjoyed political peace and stability. However, another factor is marketing, which has had a lot of uncertainties over the past years. I refer to the small-scale marketing scheme, and the current pressure to regulate the export of weaners,” he stated.

On the factor of natural resources, he said it is under pressure because it is impossible to produce without natural resources.

“The sector is under pressure because of climate change, poor management, droughts, over-utilisation, and so forth. Thus, water and natural rangelands are under pressure,” he stressed. The last factor, socio-economic challenges, which refer to inequality, blocks the fast-tracking of the economy in order to create jobs to alleviate poverty.

The agricultural sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was only at 4,5% in 2017, a decline from over 7% in 1990.

“The net import sector contributed N$1,7 billion, and the export sector contributed N$5,7 billion. Net import products such as grain, vegetables, dairy and poultry have grown significantly, which is positive, while on the net export side, especially with regards to beef production, it has remained stable. The worry is that sheep production has declined by 50%,” he observed.

Van der Merwe said the net import industries contributed 23% to the GDP, while the net export industries were at 77%, adding that the agricultural sector needs different growth strategies.

The agri-export industry in 2017 sustained at least 31 000 permanent employees, with 150 000 dependants.

Speaking at the same platform, farmer and Standard Bank Namibia chief executive Vetumbuavi Mungunda stressed that it is important for all stakeholders in the sector to be aligned when changes to policies are being developed.

He said policies should be economically competitive and socially viable, without compromising those two objectives. Growth in agriculture talks to productivity, which touches on the quantities produced, whether these are increasing or decreasing.

He echoed the NAU’s observation that the sector’s contribution to GDP had declined drastically from over 7% to roughly 4,5% since independence, which shows that the sector’s productivity and production has been going down.

“In other aspects of agricultural production, when agriculture is not performing well, rural development cannot perform well too. When rural development is not performing well, we start to see the migration of people moving to towns because they believe there are better living conditions compared to where they are,” he reasoned.

In a speech read on his behalf by the director of agricultural production in the agriculture ministry, Mildred Kambinda, minister Alpheus Naruseb said agriculture plays a crucial role in alleviating poverty and ensuring food security, both at household and national levels. He said about 70% of the country’s population is dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture in terms of food, income and livelihood.

“It is for this reason that at national level, the agriculture sector has been singled out as one of the priority sectors which should be harnessed to bring about the much-needed socio-economic development, and improvement to the well-being of the majority of the Namibian people. “Despite some challenges experienced in the sector, agriculture and forestry’s contribution to the national GDP rose from N$3,6 billion in 2015 to N$3,7 billion in 2016, representing 3,3% and 3,4%, respectively,”

Ryno van der Merwe

Naruseb stated.