Friday, 08 June 2012 09:30

Phosphate production can improve food security in Namibia

04 June (Windhoek) - Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) is poised to play an important role in food security in Namibia, SADC and Africa through the Sandpiper project, which NMP is developing off the coast of Namibia. Sandpiper will be producing high good phosphate, which is an essential component in the production of fertilisers.

The project will also make a significant contribution towards the empowerment of women, who constitute the majority of subsistence farmers on the African continent.

People do not often talk about their destiny or fate, their beliefs concerning fate, colour or their actions. There are those who believe that their fate is predestined, and that nothing they can do will change this final outcome. In the modern world, this belief has become outdated, as people recognise that, increasingly, they can make a sustainable difference to the world around them.

The truth, as it often does, lies somewhere in between these two extremes. While history is a consequence of human action, geography – a key determinant of human history – is largely fixed. In Namibia, the country's agricultural potential has been constrained by a low average rainfall and few perennial rivers. As a result, Namibia has to rely on its trading partners for most of the necessities it requires to feed its people.

Some 28% of households are classified as "poor" in Namibia, meaning they spend 60% or more of their total consumption on food. This phenomenon impacts the nation's children, with 24% of all children under the age of five classified as malnourished or stunted. This is a serious problem. If we do not spend urgent attention on this problem, we are in effect admitting that a quarter of our country's population does not need to be included in our vision of the future.

Namibia now produces 35% of the food it requires for domestic consumption. This is an impressive achievement in a country which must contend with harsh environmental conditions. But the country cannot be complacent about this statistic. Two powerful trends endanger this achievement: climate change and population growth.

Climate change is expected to have a dramatic effect on crop yields in southern Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to lose US$2 billion a year as maize yields decline by 15% or more from 2020, according to Oxfam. Agricultural productivity in Africa is expected to drop steadily as the effects of climate change take hold. By 2080, some studies show African crop yields dropping by between 17% and 28%.

Yet at the same time, the world's population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050 – increasing global food demand by 70%. This is bad news for any country which relies on imported food staples. The result will be exploding food prices: a phenomenon which has already impacted poor people around the world in recent years. Riots over high food prices affected several countries in 2008. Food prices have also been seen as a factor by some in the "Arab Spring".

As a small, developing country, Namibia will be impacted by these trends. Climate change is a certainty; but how resilient Namibians are will be dictated by investments and decisions that are made today. Food security and agricultural productivity must be kept on the agenda.

Given the strong link between poverty and food insecurity, ensuring that food prices remain affordable throughout the SADC region – which produces much of the food the county relies on – will be an important part of this strategy. There are several policy tools the country can use in this instance, but given the country's scarce water resources, an important strategy will be to make fertiliser more accessible to farmers, for whom fertiliser is a significant cost input.

In this conundrum, Namibia is a more fortunate country than most, because it has a world class resource phosphate deposit on its doorstep. Making use of this resource – an act of nature and geography – has the potential to fundamentally change the future of Namibia, for the better.

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