in Namibia

Namibia annually receives an average of 370 mm of rain, in the south even less, in the north a little more. The rain falls mostly as cloudbursts, and most of the water immediately trickles away. Because of the aridity and lack of surface water the agricultural use of the land is limited. Crop-farming is only pursued in the region around Otavi, Grootfontein and Tsumeb as well as near Mariental at the Hardap Dam and at the Orange river. Here mainly wheat, millet, vegetables and fruits are grown. Also on the communal lands in the north, Ovamboland, Kavango and Caprivi, a little subsistence agriculture is done. Namibia can't produce enough cereal, but has to import about two thirds of its requirements from South Africa.

Very different is the situation if it comes to meat production. Lifestock breeding is the backbone of the Namibian agriculture. The 4000 enterprises in central Namibia mainly do cattle breeding, in the south also sheep and goats. Some farmers have successfully specialised in ostriches. The largest part of the meat production is processed, frozen or vacuum-packed by the butchery Meatco to be sent to South Africa and to the EU. Also processed for export are animal hides and furs and a minor amount of sheep's wool.

Due to the arid conditions the Namibian soil's fertility is low. The sparse grass vegetation and barren soils ask for extensive stretches of land. To feed 1 cow, about 30 hectares are required if one wants to avoid overgrazing. So the farms are usually not smaller than 5000 hectares, often even larger than 10,000 hectares.

Despite the enormous size of their farms, the Namibian farmers achieve only meagre incomes. Since independence they don't get any subsidies. They have to struggle with low meat prices, currency exchange volatility and particularly with long periods of drought and cattle theft. A great problem is the progressing thorn shrub encroachment on the pastures. It is a result of overgrazing through lifestock. Overgrazed veld gets easily invaded by thorn acacias, impenetrable to the animals. It is very costly to get rid of the thorny shrubs and many farmers can't afford it. They demand subsidies from the government. It is a dire situation because the thorn shrubs draw much more water from the ground than grasses do.

The topic of a landreforn poses a latent threat to the Namibian farmers. After the independence in 1990 it has been decided to peacefully redistribute 90% of the farmland belonging to whites to the landless black majority. The redistribution process so far went extremely slow. Quite a few SWAPO leaders and officials became farm owners, but less privileged blacks generally still don't own land. Since 2005 the government sometimes makes use of the right of dispossession which is granted in the constitution. The farm owners have to be compensated with money at the market value of their farms. Endless court cases were the result. In the meanwhile many Namibians demand radical expropriation. Some peer hard at the neighboring Zimbabwe, where white farmers were forced off their land violently, resultung in the total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.

Photo: Karukul-sheep breeding on the farm "Niedersachsen" in southern Namibia