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Innovating in the worst of times

Innovating in the worst of times

Gert Jacobie
THE worst drought in 100 years is relentlessly tightening its grip on all sectors of the already struggling Namibian economy while farmers and small time traders are sweeping every highway and byway for the last available blade of grass, fodder, seedpod and piece of greenery to feed their starving animals.
In the vicinity of every single irrigation project green plant rests after crop harvesting comes at a premium for farmers, contributing towards rescuing very lean an animals, while nothing is ploughed back into the already poor soils of most of the country and contributing to the after-drought dilemma of building up fields to rich planting soils once the scourge is over.
That in itself is going to be an extra cost factor in farming when already cash strapped farmers’ lives hopefully return to normal in a few months time.
In another effort to mitigate the consequences of bad times, bigger and smaller farmers are buying up all the available veldt grass and other edibles from wherever it is to be found.
In the area north of Tsumeb in the direction of Oshivelo, all the way south towards Okahandja, around Summerdown and Hochveld/Steinhausen, through the Otavi and Grootfontein Valley and the to a lesser extent the great plains around Gobabis has become a gold mine for grass and seed pod traders, earning pennies to feed the emaciated national cattle stock.
But town lands everywhere, is also becoming a valuable asset for traders and entrepreneurs who were quick to cash in on the possibilities of making a buck. Unfortunately at least one woman trader already died near Windhoek falling to her death in the hills around the city while seeking produce to sell along the highways leading out of the main city towards the North and South.

The most popular product at the moment is mealie rests from harvests that were cultivated with various measures of success in the past planting season.
A recent SADC assessment described Namibia’s latest maize harvest as poor, with low total plantings due to financial constraints at Green Schemes, severe drought and Fall Commando Worm infestations hampering the farmers’ efforts.
In many cases these unsuccessful harvests were cut down at the stage where mealie cobs formed and worked into becoming fodder for animals. In good years an unsuccessful planting is easily ploughed back into the ground in the hope of a better next season. Now even disastrous harvests are worth some money.
But for the have not’s the money lies in the camelthorn, presopus and johannesbrood tree pods, the old grass and hay and whatever succulent green and dry material to be found along the highways and town lands of the country.
This is creating a temporary small economy, providing small jobs to the mostly uneducated and it started a penny-economy as a very valuable means of income to many.
With the advent of better communications, the penny-economy has grown in value to an unbelievable size.
Cellphones, electronic money transfers, autobanks and taxi’s with trailers is pivotal and crucial trading tools of the penny-economy, while return freighters running north and south on the county’s highways, with or without owners consent, forms part of this amazing story of survival.
Namibian resourcefulness is at play at its very best in answering this current harsh challenge of nature and the men and women are standing up to be counted.
In a perverse way, and regardless of the damage done to future growth on the battered soils, there might be a positive spin-off from the migration of plant materials being transported all over the country. Imagine camelthorn tree or a swarthaak bush, or even a mopane tree seed from the tree rich north that passed through the rumen of a cow being fed on a farm near Mariental or Maltehöhe, becoming a large tree under the shadow of which a tired farmer can rest in better times.
There is also the very real possibility that this drought can change the farming patterns where enough underground water, once resources are re-charged, are to be found, will lead to smaller more intense farming methods where fodder-production and crop farming intensifies, and more land can be unlocked for uptake by young energetic entrants to the industry.
In a world where technology is advancing at head-spinning speed, it is not unimaginable.

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