Poor regional rainfall slashes harvest expectations

Namibia's Kavango and Caprivi regions will see only a third of their normal maize harvest this year due to sparse rainfall.

This falls in line with multi-agency warnings that harvests will be below normal throughout Southern Africa this year.

A government source told IRIN an assessment conducted this week showed that communal farmers will only harvest about 27 percent of their cereal needs.

"Maize is a rain fed crop and this year it's really bad because there weren't good rains. It rained in November in those two regions but then stopped in the second week of December," the source said.

The Caprivi strip is a long finger of land sandwiched by Angola, Botswana and Namibia. Kavango is a vast dry area also to the north and both regions are still recovering from a long period of cross border fighting, bandit raids and secession attempts.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) early warning unit estimates a maize deficit for the whole of Southern Africa with Namibia weighing in at an estimated 177,000 mt.

The unit's quarterly report said that overall national food security remained adequate in Namibia. However, current private sector plans to import 101,000 mt of cereals, comprising 66,000 mt of maize and 35,100 mt of wheat fall short of the total import requirement. The uncovered import gap (currently projected at 105,000 tonnes) will be filled through further commercial imports in response to market forces, it said.

The government source said that in four north central regions - Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto - only certain pockets received some rain in March, diminishing exectations of good sorghum and millet harvests.

Millet, maize and wheat comprise up to 60 percent of the population's total calorie intake.

"Things are bad in terms of crop production," he said. "Those four regions have had rains and most crops wilted in the flowering stage. It is a kind of disaster. It is not a normal harvest."

He said the country's commercial farmers were unaffected as they used irrigation systems.

Earlier this week the governors of the four north central areas reported that people were coming to their office to register for food aid. About 800 people in Omusati, 7,000 in Oshana - over 3,000 of them orphans - had already registered, they said.

Up to 70 percent of Namibia's population depends on subsistence farming which is complicated by it being the driest country in Southern Africa. To counter this, the Namibian government and the UN Development Programme launched Desertification 2002, a regional network to share information on coping with living on parched land.

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Nambia's neighbour Zimbabwe along with Malawi and Lesotho have already declared a disaster or famine.

An urgent World Food Programme (WFP) assessment is nearing completion and the Namibian Agriculture Department assessment would be finalised next week.