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Op-Ed: Effective partnerships between government and private sector in critical areas and long-term investments would expedite development in Namibia

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The Namibia Agriculture Policy is the overarching policy and can serve as a base for aligning existing policies, laws and regulations. The policy presents a framework for the design of programmes and projects that will steer the performance of the sector.

The Namibia Merchandise Trade Statistics Bulletin revealed that Namibia imported N$340.8 million worth of rice between June 2022 to June 2023. The trade imports are highlighting the market gaps that exist as the country progresses in producing its food, given the food insecurity faced by various communities.   The green scheme programme encourages the development of irrigated production with approximately 27 000 hectares along the perennial rivers bordering Namibia and at strategic inland areas where water is abundant.

Namibia has about Eleven (11) green scheme projects, such as the Orange River, Hardap, Etunda, Musese, Sikondo, Uvungu-Vungu, Ndonga-Linena, Mashare, Shadikongoro, Kalimbeza and Shitemo green scheme farms.  The Zambezi and the two Kavango regions are by far the best options as hubs for food security in Namibia. This whole dependence on South Africa and other countries for everything, especially food, is going to cost us a lot.  The 11 green schemes have been underfunded, leading to the projects screeching to a halt. The AgriBusDev, a custodian of the government green scheme under the agriculture ministry, is mandated to keep these scheme projects sustainable and economically competitive.

Therefore, the achievement of agricultural prosperity on which the nation depends is not the responsibility of the government alone. Without the cooperation and participation of the farming community and the private sector as a whole, the government’s agricultural development objectives cannot be achieved.

The irrigation practice is vital to a successful green revolution to achieving sustainable development goals in food security, and socio-economic and rural development. However, irrigation practice in Namibia has not achieved the set goals, despite the huge investment involved.

The level of investment and abundant water resources ought to have expedited the goals of food self-sufficiency and socio-economic development in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform has undertaken to review the green schemes.  The review showed the major persistent issues that have been hindering the performance of the green scheme to achieving the set goals were inconsistent policies, lack of political commitment, low awareness and lack of technical know-how among the management responsible, and untimely financial intervention.

The lack of full-time involvement by the top leaders who are responsible for these green schemes costs the government. The green schemes were under-utilised and abandoned large-scale irrigation systems.

Hence, to achieve food security and socio-economic development through green scheme practice in Namibia, there is a need to provide a proper policy framework, appropriate technology and farmers’ awareness and their inclusion in the decision-making process.

The green scheme practices are dormant as they face challenges of poor management, lack of coordination, market problems and poor technical skill and knowledge of irrigation practices on the user level.

Furthermore, despite these problems and challenges, the opportunity to make the system sustainable can create jobs and help to improve the economic status of the people in the agriculture sector. A fair budget was allocated for the agriculture sector of about N$2.4 billion in FY2023/24 of the national budget.

With the increase in population, food products are insufficient to fulfil the demand. Therefore, the import trend is rising every year. The import cost for rice is at a maximum in 2022/2023. The import trend showed an alarming situation for the national economy.

So, only sustainable irrigation practices can boost agriculture productivity and minimise the import cost. The Kalimbeza Rice Project in the Zambezi region remains dormant due to a lack of funds.  The project, having been bailed out in 2020 when the ministry of agriculture spent N$7.1 million to keep it running, various publications revealed that Agibusdev allegedly failed to manage the project, forcing the government to take over the green scheme that was supposed to have happened before the end of 2022.

The Kalimbeza Rice Project before operation stoppage produced three rice varieties Supa, Irga and Angola. Regrettably, the project is without normal production on the 229 hectares of land in the Kabbe North constituency.

Therefore, investment in green scheme re-evaluation should not be an issue of debate but rather on how to improve the performances of various irrigation schemes across the country by addressing the various challenges encountered.

Generally, the government is now aware of the significant role of irrigation development and its efficient utilisation of food security and economic growth.

Moreover, as is widely accepted, if Namibia is to witness sustainable green schemes resuscitate and poverty reduction it will need to learn from other countries, such as China, the United States and India, whilst in Africa we can learn from Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and South Africa, among others.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform should recognise the importance of flexibility in the timing and design of reform processes to achieve practical and effective policy changes.

Governments should prepare future reforms, via continued research, education and governance efforts to help take advantage of reform opportunities when the timing is right.  Additionally, there is light at the end of the tunnel as Namibia Training Authority encouraged the National Policy on Work-integrated Learning for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). To meet this challenge, the agricultural sector in Namibia needs serious reforms and an increase in public investments in agriculture. To reach these goals the development of skills and knowledge plays a key important cross-cutting and value-adding strategy. Based on a review and revaluation activities of green scheme projects in these regions, the general situation appears to be that monitoring and evaluation are having far less impact on the management process than expected or even possible.

One of the main reasons for this sad state of affairs is that monitoring and evaluation are being imposed from senior managers who are based in Windhoek to the farm managers.

In conclusion, this requires a great deal of courage to stay the course in the face of setbacks and to make decisions that may be unpopular with short-term stakeholders. Effective partnerships between the government and private sector in critical areas of infrastructure and long-term investments would expedite development. Therefore, faced with this difficult task, the easy option for policymakers would be to maintain the status quo. But better policies for green schemes hold tremendous promise for meeting the challenge of food security and nutrition, livelihoods and environmental sustainability.