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Building Resilience Food Production System through Sustainable Agriculture in Namibia Cities

Namibia is a country on the south-west coast of Africa with a total land area of 824 268 km2. The country consists of poorly vegetated steppe-like areas dominant in southern and western regions, the Namib Desert in the west along the Atlantic Ocean, the Kalahari Desert in the southeast, extensive savannah and woodlands in the central and north-eastern areas, and subtropical forests in the far north-eastern regions. The Namib is partly rocky and partly (in the central stretch) dunes. While having complex flora and fauna, it is a fragile and sparsely covered environment unsuitable for pastoral or agricultural activities.

The majority of Namibia’s population is dependent directly or indirectly on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods with about 70%, mostly in the subsistence sector, which contributes around 5.1% of the GDP of which 70 % represents the output of the livestock sub – sector. Livestock farming contributes to approximately two-thirds of agricultural production, with crop farming and forestry making up the remaining third of production. Agriculture in Namibia presents great opportunities for economic growth, employment creation, food security and poverty eradication. Despite the declining or small share contribution to GDP, the sector remains the backbone of the economy and prosperity for many Namibians.

In 2018, Namibia was a net exporter of fruits and vegetables, with N$876 million worth of exports. Dates and grapes were the most exported fruits, at N$63 million and N$658 million, respectively. According to a report by First Capital (Pty) Ltd titled ‘Food Prices’ Review and Outlook 2018′, potatoes, apples, onions and tomatoes had the most demand on the local market.

Meat processing (which the Namibian government accounts for under manufacturing) contributes to another 0.2 – 0.4 percent of GDP. In 2019, Namibia exported about 12,400 metric tons of meat. Most meat is exported to the United States, Europe, South Africa, and China. In March, Namibia became the first and only African country to export beef to the United States. Livestock farming remains an important foreign exchange earner for Namibia.

In the first quarter of 2021, agriculture sector recorded a decline of 2.8%. The decline was mainly due to the livestock sub-sector that contracted by 7.5% in real value-added. Namibia exports of agriculture, forestry, and fishery products for the first quarter of 2021 amounted to N$531.2 million (2.6% of total exports) while the import bill stood at N$762.7 million (2.8% of total imports), the first publication of the quarterly agriculture statistical bulletin for the year 2021 stated.

It is estimated that 66% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. In the meantime, one-third of the food produced for human consumption is being lost or wasted, the equivalent of 1.3 billion tonnes per year. This waste does not include the land, water and energy that went into producing it. And yet cities hold the key to unlocking the potential to not only satisfy this increased demand but also improve livelihoods, citizens’ health and the natural environment. These trends pose a big challenge in the form of meeting the food demand for the increasing world and urban populations. However, given the limited availability of arable land, technological innovation in agriculture provides the best tool to increase food production to satisfy the new food demands.

The FAO defines food security as a situation where “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This definition highlights four key food security dimensions: the need for sufficient food to be available, an ability to access that food, that the foods that are accessed contribute to the nutritional status of the household (utilization), and the need for access to that food “at all times” (stability).

Unprecedented rural–urban migration has led to rapid urban growth. Whilst in 1900 a mere 13 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, the UN-Habitat estimates that by 2030 this level will have risen to 60 per cent. At independence in 1990, the total urban population of Namibia was estimated at 28%. It had grown to 33% by 2001 and to 42% by 2011. In 2016, the UN- Habitat estimates that the current level of urbanization is 47% and that this will grow to 55% by 2025.

Professor Miguel Altieri,  
Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, UC Berkeley. Photo: Bayer Crop Science

Professor of Agroecology at University of California, Berkeley, Miguel Altieri said, “cities have limited ability to deal with food issues within their boundaries, and many problems associated with food systems require action at the national and international level. However, city governments, local universities and nongovernment organizations can do a lot to strengthen food systems, including creating agroecological training programs and policies for land and water access. The first step is increasing public awareness of how urban farming can benefit modern cities”.

In April, the second locusts invasion has destroyed many hectares of crops and livelihoods, mostly in the northern regions of the country.

While the prolonged dry spells, flooding and loss of income due to impacts of COVID-19 control measures on livelihoods and poor agriculture practices affect food security. Food is thus getting more expensive faster than other basic products, forcing households to make trade-offs in their budgets. This is especially true for households with an income that remains stagnant despite rising prices. Food currently accounts for 14.8% of Namibian consumers’ baskets. Inflation on food has increased by 6.1% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to an increase of 2.7% a year ago.

The pandemic has worsened the lack of food among poor rural communities and those living in a peri-urban set-up, who mainly depend on subsistence farming and informal trading. Many households currently depend on government food aid and drought-relief programmes.

Calle Schlettwein, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform, Namibia. Photo:

The informal sector employs more than 80% of the working population in Africa, according to the World Bank. Over 57% of the employed population is found in the informal sector in Namibia. The country’s Minister of Agriculture, Calle Schlettwein said such high percentages are an indication of the urgency that is required for the development of the informal sector to sustain and guarantee jobs and income in that sector.

In Nambia, average annual rainfall varies from less than 20 mm on the Atlantic coast to 600 mm in the northeast. Only eight percent of the country receives more than 500 mm in average annually. Most rain falls during the summer and drought is a common phenomenon throughout the country. Low and variable rainfall and the inherently poor soils are major obstacles to optimum agriculture production. Over the years, the sector’s performance have been minimal as a result of among others , low and delayed rainfall experienced in the 2014/15 season led to a drought that is estimated to lead to a contraction in both livestock farming and crop production.

Sustainable agriculture refers to farming while using practices that benefit the environment. It encourages future generations to have access to soil and land, which, if cared for, will continue to provide for them in years to come. Many Namibian farmers would benefit from implementing sustainable practices to increase soil fertility while decreasing the effects of soil degradation.

In addition, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has a number of high-dividend actions that countries can take under the Paris Agreement to fight food loss and waste through circular action. In order to mitigate food insecurity and reduce food wastage in Nambian cities. The country, can adopt the following process outline below:

  • Promote urban and peri-urban food production

Cities can increase their resilience to external shocks and help strengthen food security by relying on a mix of local, regional and global producers. Shorter food supply chains help reduce unnecessary food loss due to storage and transportation inefficiencies, not to mention the associated distribution costs and emissions and excess plastic packaging. People will benefit as well. Locally-sourced, fresh, and nutritious food will help contribute to healthy diets and well-being.

  • Rethink policies for land use and urban design

Cities can be advocates and enablers, making vacant city-owned lots available for farm leases, passing zoning laws and launching programmes to promote urban agriculture. Paris and Singapore have launched initiatives to take advantage of rooftops for food production and include urban farms in new developments. In poorer countries, the agricultural heritage of many rural-urban migrants is helping cities improve food security.

Why African Cities Needs Vertical Farming?

  • Generate value from waste

Food loss and waste, which the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates is costing US$1 trillion every year has the potential to create new income streams for local governments and businesses. A part of this economic loss could be recaptured by converting waste into sustainable agricultural, natural fertilizers or other high value products. Several cities in the United States pulverize food scraps through in-sink garbage disposals, then turn the slurry into fertilizers and biogas to power buses and water treatment facilities. Sweet Benin, an innovative example from Benin, is working with TechnoServe to turn waste from cashew harvests into a new beverage industry and help cashew farmers supplement their off-season incomes. This large waste stream can be upcycled into safe, tasty and healthy products and ingredients that can work at large scale distribution.

  • Deploy digitalization and data-driven urban farming

Better data can help us understand our food’s journey or “waste” streams to determine how they can be captured and upcycled into other value-generating processes. During the pandemic, many cities, including those in China, shifted to online market places to connect small farmers with consumers, and to distribute food as the traditional distribution tracks shut down. Tools such as the Food Loss and Waste Value Calculator can also help cities track how their efforts to prevent food loss and waste provide nutritional and environmental value.

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