To some, food self-sufficiency and food security may seem to be the same. However, these are two different phrases, with food self-sufficiency being an enabler of food security. Food self-sufficiency refers to the reliance on own production to meet or satisfy daily food consumption, rather than purchasing or importing from elsewhere.
Moreover, food self-sufficiency is a critical aspect of food security and sustainable livelihoods. On the other hand, food security refers to the availability and accessibility to sufficient, safe and nutritious food produced anywhere.
There is continuous pressure on food availability in the world due to increasing populations and associated factors such as political unrest, and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic which are still prevailing.
Potential food scarcity in many countries is evident and has been worsened by climatic conditions such as droughts, and pest and disease outbreaks.
Therefore, agricultural and economic development is under constant pressure and threat. In Namibia, agriculture has been and potentially is the principal sector to support the majority of the population in the form of food, employment and income.
Agricultural production in Namibia is predominated by livestock production, mainly cattle, sheep and goats. There are also other enterprises such as poultry, piggery and dairy farming. Crop production includes maize and millet as staple foods and horticultural production entails products such as grapes, dates, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages and pumpkin, amongst others.
Some of these are produced on a commercial basis, whereas some are mainly under subsistence farming practices in communal farming areas, which harbour the larger portion of the farming population in the country.
Challenges to food production
The common challenges faced by most farmers in Namibia include climate change, diseases and pests, knowledge or skills gaps, the absence of or inaccessible markets, inappropriate technologies, inaccessible inputs, inadequate farm infrastructure, higher cost of production, and antagonistic policy aspects. Food self-sufficiency needs a multifaceted approach, where all aspects from production to consumption are identified and understood to explore appropriate production practices aimed at increasing agricultural output.
Improving food production
Efforts to improve local production should be based on localised research and experimental activities on production methods and technologies to ensure the sustainable production of safe foods, including indigenous food. Increasing consumption of local food is key to stimulating local production and food self-sufficiency, which in turn reduces dependency on food imports and associated costs.
However, local consumption is also influenced by the price of local foods and consumers’ product preferences. Food prices are associated with the production costs of inputs, value-addition, packaging, storage and transportation.
Another consideration for improving food production is access to land, finance, production inputs, information and capacity-building. The implementation of farm business operations requires capital investment or starting capital to acquire and manage resources, including land, water, technologies and labour. Another challenge of food production in developing countries is the reliance on the importation of inputs, for example seeds, implements or machinery.
This is due to the unavailability of inputs, or lack of capacity to manufacture inputs locally. Thus, the development of local inputs’ industries can reduce the dependency on the importation of inputs. In addition, value addition to local food and raw materials will reduce the importation of finished products. These will ultimately lower the cost of production and food prices, and in turn, increase the production and consumption of local foods.
In conclusion, food self-sufficiency is a developmental agenda which requires coordinated efforts to strengthen and harmonise support systems such as policies, institutions and investments to ensure sustainable agricultural and economic progression. “Produce what you can eat, and eat what you produce.”
Erastus Ngaruka is the technical advisor for Agribank’s advisory services