Namibia: Early planting helps small-scale farmers adapt to drought

| May 27, 2013

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Rainfall is unpredictable in northern Namibia. Over the past decade, drought has stopped many small-scale farmers from growing enough food or earning enough income. This year is no exception, as the region suffers another dry spell.

But Mr. Agatus Timoteus will enjoy a good harvest of pearl millet. He planted early, and his crop was already fully developed when drought hit.

Everyone in Oshaandja village knows the 81-year-old farmer. Mr. Timoteus is always the first to prepare his land, sow his seeds, and harvest his crops.

Mr. Timoteus says that this is the secret behind getting a bumper harvest in the face of adverse weather. Every year, he sows his field by November 13. Most other farmers in his area sow between late November and early December.

Farmers who plant later are affected by every drought. So where did Mr. Timoteus learn to plant early? He explains: “I learned this from my late parents, who observed that rain falls by the 15 November … This method has been working for me.”

But early planting is not enough, says Mr. Timoteus. To get bumper yields during a drought, farmers must be innovative and committed. Mr. Timoteus says: “I slash my field, which my fellow farmers do not do. I apply a composted mixture of millet stalks and cow dung that I progressively make over two years before applying it in the field.”

Ms. Hilaria Ankama is a local small-scale farmer who adopted Mr. Timoteus’ methods. She says, “I realized that Mr. Timoteus’ early timing in farming was a good trend to adopt.” She now keeps a close eye on what he does, how he does it, and when he does it. By observing him closely, she learns. When Mr. Timoteus starts his farming activities, Ms. Ankama starts too.

Local people call Mr. Timoteus the farmer that works even on Sundays. This is unusual for the Christian community in his area. But Mr. Timoteus, who is a Christian, works on Sundays to ensure that he prepares his land on time. Although Sunday is seen as a day of rest, he says, “I will not let my work pile up merely because it’s a Sunday.”

Being an early bird has its challenges. Mr. Timoteus explains, “Because I plant early, my field is prone to bird attacks that destroy the crops.” Fortunately, his family has worked out a solution. Until the crop is well-established, they spend their days frightening birds away by banging watering cans together.

Because he planted his four hectares of pearl mille early this year, Mr. Timoteus predicts a bumper harvest of 3,500 kilograms. This is an increase from last year’s 2,900 kilograms. A 25-kilogram sack of pearl millet sells for about $8 US in Namibia, so Mr. Timoteus can earn over $1100 US. He is hopeful that his increased yields will attract more customers and increase his profits.