Namibian farmers break with tradition as planting season begins

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A farm worker applies biochar in the field during a demonstration at a farm 40 km from Windhoek, capital of Namibia, on Oct. 8, 2020. A group of Namibian farmers are changing the face of farming in the normally infertile soils of the desert that characterizes the Southern African country through the use of biochar as a form of natural fertilizer. (Photo by Musa C Kaseke/Xinhua)
A farm worker applies biochar to a field during a demonstration at a farm 40 km from Windhoek, capital of Namibia, on Oct. 8, 2020. (Photo by Musa C Kaseke/Xinhua)

Late afternoon on Saturday, Gertrud Aron, a subsistence farmer at a village in Oshana region in the northern part of Namibia gave instructions on how members of her household would sow seeds. She was diverting from the conventional way of planting the same crop in the same plots.

“We are trying crop rotation, in the hope for better yields later during harvesting season,” Aron said on Saturday.

According to the 78 years old farmer, the approach is also complemented by sowing with new seed varieties suitable for the rainy farming season. The change is an adaptation mechanism after the farmers encountered unpredictable weather patterns over the years, which complicated farming predictions.

“Over the years, we encountered a mix of conditions and challenges such as flooding, drought and pests breakout. We derived many lessons. So it is only fair that we explore new seed varieties amongst other approaches,” Aron added.

The country received above-normal rainfall early this year, according to Odile Kgobetsi from the local meteorological services department in Namibia.

While Namibia received regular to above-normal rainfall in late 2019 and in 2020, it was preceded by persistent drought which loomed into 2016 and other years, seen as the worst in more than 30 years for the country. Namibian President in May 2019 subsequently also declared a state of emergency.

Joas Barakius from the same area also farms with pearl millet. To maximize on good rainfall, in addition to opting for new seed varieties, he made sure he added organic manure to improve soil fertility.

“I applied the fertilizers ahead of the ploughing. But what is new this year is that I also complemented that with other fertilizers applied post sowing,” he said.

Furthermore, like Aron, he also adopted new practices. According to Barakius, seeds are critical at the sowing stage of the farming season, thus farmers make it a priority to select the best.

“The seeds determine the type of yields, quantity and quality of the harvest,” he added.

Moreover, the villagers were also provided with free seeds by the local agricultural extension offices.

“This was done to ensure inclusivity of all farmers as some might not have any surplus,” said Fanuel Henok, member of the local village council.

To ease the labor on farms, villagers also come together to help each other at various stages of farming, which makes the work easier and the process faster, Henok said.

Meanwhile, an expert has urged farmers to further adopt other unconventional methods such as conservation agriculture to improve yields.

“That way farmers would be able to plant and farm according to the weather patterns and environment,” said Oswald Mwanyangapo, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform.

In the interim, the farming season has offered Namibian subsistence farmers hope for yields despite COVID-19 challenges.

“We are hopeful of better yields and prosperity,” Aron said.

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