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Climate radio show looks at importance of drought management in Namibia

31 Oct 2018 - 13:15

By Ndamonako Iita.

ASSAR’s research has found that for people to stay, and thrive, in Namibia’s northern rural areas, government needs to find ways to better support rural communities so that they have various ways to maintain their livelihoods during times of drought. ASSAR’s research recommends the need for climate-smart agricultural methods, and the development of economic opportunities for livelihoods outside of agriculture. 

Importantly, rural communities in semi-arid regions need access to state support during drought but in a way that does not create a dependent relationship that leaves communities waiting for government to do something. When drought hits, subsistence farmers can weather the crisis better if they have more than just their land to depend on for food, or an alternative source of income. Many communities fare better in times of drought if they can rely on state support or a family member who sends wages back from work in an urban economy.

These findings formed the basis for the penultimate broadcast of ASSAR’s climate change radio show, which aired September 17, 2018. 

How government responds to drought

Japhet Iitenge, director of the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) division in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), once again graced the NBC studio to join the show. 

Drought management is needed in situations where insufficient water negatively impacts on availability of food for humans and livestock, he explained. This then necessitates the intervention of various stakeholders to deal with the drought. Namibia’s various drought management strategies are determined by the impacts and types of drought. If the drought leads to water scarcity then water-saving measures are normally set up by municipalities, hotels or water experts. The strategies adopted depend on whether the drought occurs at the local, regional, or national level. When a drought has a direct impact on food security then the necessary steps outlined in the National Drought Policy, which falls under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), are followed. If the Ministry, as the first respondent, does not have the needed resources to manage the drought, the problem is then brought to the attention of Iitenge’s office. Its role is to solicit assistance from different stakeholders to solve the problem. The MAWF is also responsible for officially communicating the outcome of such a situation to OPM. Eventually, a final decision is taken at cabinet level on whether the drought can be declared a disaster or not.

Iitenge mentioned the key institutions in Namibia that are important for managing droughts. These include the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the United Nations, Red Cross, UNICEF, farmers unions, churches, regional councils, and traditional authorities. Academic institutions, such as the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) and University of Namibia  (UNAM) are tasked with the research component -- they provide information to the relevant institutions with the aim of reducing vulnerability to drought, managing drought, and helping communities recover from drought. 

He suggested that farmers make use of capacity development programmes, such as the ASSAR project, as these create awareness and educate the public about drought and other important topics. He also urged farmers to make use of drought-tolerant seed varieties, such as Kangara, to secure their yields, during droughts.

State support aids resilience

ASSAR researchers found a marked difference in the way Angolan migrants coped with drought and how Namibians living in Onesi did. The Namibians, who were living in communities 50 km away from their Angolan neighbours, were better able to absorb the shock of drought because they had other options to get through the crisis, such as getting money from family members in urban areas. Elderly Namibian women in rural areas also received state pensions while Angolans did not. 

These findings showed how both Angolan and Namibian communities were typical agricultural economies, both trying to survive the same severe drought (2016). But the stark difference between the two groups was that the Namibians had state support while the Angolans did not.  

ASSAR has proposed solutions to assist rural communities to manage drought. Communities need to be supported so that they have a sense of agency. This allows them to help themselves by self-organising, self-mobilising, creating self-help groups, and being more innovative so they do not rely solely on government handouts. People also need alternative livelihoods. One way to enable this is to ensure that rural communities have access to urban economies so they can sell their produce or find work and support themselves.

Callers raise concerns

To assist farmers, government has subsidised the cost of ploughing by supplying tractors for this work. The tractor service is available to all farmers in communal areas. The tractors are deployed on a rotational basis, according to a calendar drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture. The service is available throughout the year and not just in periods of drought. One caller, however, was concerned about the availability of government tractors as these have limitations in reaching some of the very remote farming areas.

Another caller inquired about why drought relief is only distributed to some people and not the entire community in times of drought. This caller was of the opinion that the criteria used to decide the beneficiaries is not fair, as it is mainly income-based. Another caller asked where to buy drought-tolerant seeds. The same caller advised fellow listeners not to cut down trees as these help in the fight against climate change. A livestock farmer was curious about the different breeds of livestock that can resist or withstand drought. The last caller shared insights on the impact of development on river flows: he had noticed that some rivers have stopped flowing along their natural paths due to man-made changes, which ultimately impacts agricultural production.

Ndamonako Anna Iita is a media graduate from the University of Namibia who is currently working at the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation as a freelance indigenous language news presenter, producing news stories and presenting them every Monday at 5 p.m. She is employed by the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia on a two-month internship and is doing translations for the ASSAR project and co-hosting the ASSAR climate change radio series.

Photo credit: Dian Spear.