Widespread drought in southern Africa is threatening Namibia’s economy. According to local media, Namib Mills will be raising retail prices on key grain staples – again — as of February 29. South Africa’s maize harvest was decimated by drought, which sent the price of white maize on the Johannesburg commodity exchange up by more than 155% between January 2015 and January 2016. For Namibia’s import-dependent livestock and dairy industries, this is disastrous, particularly since they’re facing the same drought. Feeding costs for dairy cows rose 50% last year, pushing the industry to the brink of collapse.
Namibia already receives the most erratic rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa. If climate change makes droughts worse, then it will be hard to maintain any domestic food industries. (Water-intensive industries like mining and manufacturing will also suffer from a prolonged drought.)
The government is currently in emergency response mode due to the drought, but it can’t afford to always be playing catch-up. Relief measures (including subsidies for grazing and transport, and sales incentives) for cattle farmers began last March, at which time the government announced they would last until the drought situation normalized or until the emergency budget allocation was used up.
For a long-term response, the Namibian government is embarking on a $1.86 billion program to restore rangelands and alleviate bush encroachment over the next 20 years. Rangelands sustain the majority of the country’s farming communities, but they are deteriorating in all parts of Namibia. This leads to the loss of the country’s perennial grasses, bush encroachment, and a less productive, poorer quality, riskier, and more disease and drought-prone livestock industry, according to Minister of Agriculture, Water, and Forestry John Mutorwa.
Furthermore, climate change will only make things worse. Rainfall is expected to be more variable in future, while higher CO2 levels boost the growth of bush versus perennial grass.
But the situation could be mediated. Mutorwa stated that restoring rangelands, with the resultant abundance of perennial grasses, is an important way to mitigate the impacts of drought. He also called for moving away from a system of continuous grazing to a grazing management strategy which would provide sufficient time for rangeland to recover. Water catchment also needs to be improved in order to reduce erosion and water runoff.
The country expects to see a $123 million increase in annual meat production as a result of these measures. Additionally, there should be a significant improvement in the recharge and thus availability of groundwater, and new jobs will be created to carry out the rangeland restoration.
But in the short-term, Namibian farmers will have to scrape by and hope the rains return.