Rain, rain, go away, come again another day...
“Rain, rain, go away, come again another day”…..
……is not something you would hear a Namibian say.
This year marks the worst drought in the country for 30 years. With a normal average rainfall of 400mm (the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa), last year amounted to 250mm. That was after 5 good years of rains (average 500-600mm per year), so you would have hoped that the last few years would have been enough to stock the animals, plants, and soil up for any bad years, but alas it doesn’t work like that in this country. Most soil does not soak up much water, but rather causes flash flooding, and because the sun is so strong here, the puddles are quickly evaporated and taken away to a different country with the wind.
Namibia is known for unpredictable wet seasons, where rainfall regularly peaks and troughs. However, people are (in general) very good at remembering positive things and also very good at forgetting negative things. How does this affect the country? Well, as most of the land here is used by agriculture (and almost exclusively for livestock farming as less than 5% of the country is suitable for growing crops) people tend to stock up their numbers of livestock in the good year. They let their cows breed and breed, and they retain more stock for the next year in the hope that the following year will also provide a good season of rain. However, you can never predict these things, and this year has been a sure indication that almost every single farmer here has overstocked their land. What happens then? The lack of rain produces less grass, so the cattle have less to eat, so either they get very thin, or they have to be sold. But then everyone wants to sell their cattle because they’re all trying to get the highest weights for their livestock by giving them more grazing. And so due to supply and demand, the price that they get for their livestock decreases in the drought years.
Not only that, but farmers have to fork out lots of money for additional inputs, such as extra fodder, mineral lick and vitamins. On top of that, if there is a good year of rain the following year, the price of livestock increases, so those farmers that try to buy back their stock are struck with massive inflation. And what’s more, as the drought starts to affect the wildlife, the game numbers die off and the predators get hungry, so they start taking their chances with livestock. The farmer, of course, gets mad, because he is already losing money hand over foot, so shoots the predators.
How does this affect my research? Well, being that I’m trying to find a way for people to coexist with predators, I understand the additional struggles farmers have in drought years like this. But the question that keeps coming into my head is “should we really be using this land for livestock farming, when we know that there is a needle-fine line between a ‘good’ year and a ‘bad’ year?”.