The Namibian

News – National | 2021-03-09Page no: 3

by Lugeretzia Kooper

SMALL-SCALE farmers in the Bwabwata National Park say their food security is threatened by marauding elephants invading their fields, eating the near-mature crops.

Most of the communities in the Chetto, Choi, and Omega 3 areas west of Katima Mulilo comprise San people.

Headman Djugwe Thikoko last week said farmers are going to great lengths to grow food, but the elephants are leaving them with next to nothing to survive on while they are already struggling to make ends meet.

“We received good rains, and this was a good ploughing season. We hoped to have a bumper harvest, but with the elephants destroying our fields we have started harvesting early to save what is left of our crops. As you can see, my maize is not ready, so now I have to dry it in the sun,” he said.

Thikoko said it is disappointing to see their fields, which they hand-ploughed as they own no livestock, being destroyed.

He said farmers in the area do not receive any assistance from the government to plough their fields.

“Since we live in a park, we are not supposed to own cattle, which could be of great help to us. We also hear the government’s tractors plough for farmers in some parts of the region, but not here. Government services are always provided to us last – if we are lucky enough to receive them,” he said.

Thikoko said the community also faces other challenges, such as a lack of a cellphone network and water in the Chetto area.

“As an old man, I do not even get to listen to a radio or communicate with my family over the phone, because there is no network. You cannot even call for help during emergencies. Community members have to walk long distances to the clinic or to fetch water, because all the boreholes are broken, and the rural water-supply department does not fix them.

“We are really suffering,” he said.

Boniface Kabenda said he has ploughed over five hectares of maize, and finds it devastating that it could all be destroyed by elephants in the blink of an eye.

“I started ploughing late, so my mealies are still small . . . I currently sleep in my field to keep the elephants away, but they still destroy part of my field,” he said.

Kabenda said the farmers have for years reported the damage to their crops, but have received no compensation, leading them to believe the government has abandoned them.

Kongola constituency councillor Beneti Busihu yesterday said since the extension officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform left the ministry in 2012, he has not been replaced.

Busihu said he is, however, in the process of ensuring that farmers in the western parts of the Zambezi region also benefit from the government’s services.

“My wish is to introduce conservation agriculture in the western Zambezi. Therefore, I will start engaging agricultural development centres (ADC’s), and hopefully by the next ploughing season these services will be available for those living in Chetto, Omega 3 and Choi,” he said.

Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism spokesperson Romeo Muyunda yesterday said the ministry does not allow anyone living in a national park to own cattle, adding it does not apply to the San community only.

“However, in multiple-use areas of the park, residents are allowed to keep small livestock, such as goats. In core wildlife areas, no livestock is allowed,” he said.