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Namibia is a sparsely populated and arid country bordering the Atlantic Ocean just above South Africa, from whom it gained independence in 1990. It is renowned for its vast desert and richness of wild life and natural resources. National statistics are misleading. It is classified as a middle-income country, yet a third of its population lives below the poverty line. Agriculture represents less than 10% of the GDP but 40% of households depend on subsistence farming. Improving the productivity and resilience of small farms is key to tackling rural poverty and malnutrition. Pearl millet and sorghum crop improvement, appropriate soil and water conservation practices and farmer-friendly innovation platforms within small livestock and crop value chains are some of our research priorities in Namibia.

43% - Territory under conservation  in Namibia - 2012 (World Bank)

1 out of 3 - Namibia's population lives on less than $1.25 a day

134 kg/ha - Average pearl millet yield in Namibia (FAO 2012)


General context

Following its independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has been praised for its good governance, sound social policies and dynamic market economy, stimulated by rich natural resources. Known for its coastal desert "Namib", meaning vast place, Namibia is a leading country in nature conservation with a growing eco-tourism sector. Going by its average GDP per capita ($5,670/year), the rather arid Namibia is among middle income countries but with high social and economic inequities. A majority of the population is vulnerable to frequent environmental shocks like droughts.

Development challenges such as access to water and sanitation and other basic services, and malnutrition, are being dealt with, but remain significant. Unemployment is high and about 17% of children under five are underweight. Even though agriculture represents only 7.5% of the GDP, 40% of households depend on small-scale subsistence farming. Levels of food insecurity and malnutrition may fluctuate with the changing climate. Erratic and scarce rainfall make farming challenging for a large part of the Namibian territory.

Namibia's agricultural landscape has changed since independence, from livestock rearing for export to South Africa to self-sufficiency in indigenous crops. There are four main farming systems: small-scale cereal crop (pearl millet, sorghum, maize) and livestock (goat and cattle) in extreme North Namibia; cattle ranching in the center; sheep and goat farms (with grazing on communal lands) in the drier South; and commercial irrigated farms for export and local market (maize, dairy, vegetables and fruits) spread across the country.   

ICRISAT research in Namibia

For decades, ICRISAT has collaborated with Namibia on pearl millet research. This dryland cereal is a key staple crop for family food security in Northern Namibia, where more than half the population lives. Yields are extremely low (134 kg/ha, 2012 average); so climate-adapted varieties and better conservation practices could have tremendous impact.

An example of the great impact ICRISAT's crop research has had is that of early-maturing, high-yielding pearl millet variety Okashana 1 which was developed through international collaboration between ICRISAT, Zimbabwe and Namibia, and is now grown by half the millet farmers, thanks to a well managed farmer-based seed system (FAO case study) and numerous on-farm trials.

Small livestock like goats and sheep are important for many households but forage shortage and poor animal health mean that returns from livestock is meagre. Innovation platforms, getting farmers together, and public services and private sector help in identifying solutions such as creating veterinary outlets can help.

A farmer in a field of pearl millet variety Okashana. This early-maturing variety is now grown on half the millet cultivating area (Mawf Namibia) .
A cattle auction in Omatjete for export to South Africa. Compliance with quality standards translates into better prices for the farmer (LILI project).
Innovation platform in action - meeting with farmers in Hoachans (LILI project).