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WFP cash helps Namibia's farmers confront weather extremes

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Drought followed by flooding has wiped out harvests

Retired cattle auctioneer Kavanga Ngombe, 81, has seen his harvests shrink over the past five years, as his home region of Kunene in northwestern Namibia has swung between weather extremes of drought, followed by floods.

"We had stored grain from the good harvest years, but it is all depleted now,” says Kavanga, a father of seven. “I do not know where my family’s next meal will come from.”

Kunene counts among 14 regions in Namibia prone to floods, droughts and wildfires that have intensified in recent years — decimating crops and livestock and increasing hunger in a country highly dependent on imports and only producing about 40 percent of the food it consumes.

But today, the most vulnerable like Kavanga are getting a lifeline—World Food Programme (WFP) cash transfers that allow them to buy food and other essentials during the hardest times between harvests.

Targeting 6,900 families and supported by the European Union, the initiative delivers the local equivalent of US$40 over three months, tapping a local mobile service provider to disburse the funds. The cash transfers, which began last year, use biometric verification to ensure the money ends up in the right hands.

The funds are being distributed in Kunene, along with two other northern regions, Ohangwena and Omusati, where temperatures soar to around 35°C for nearly eight months a year and rainfall is scarce. The land in these regions is often dry and cracked, making agriculture challenging.

“With the cash I received, I bought food for my family and medication for treatment of my constant joint pains,” says Kavanga.

Rain at the beginning of this year gave Kavanga and his family hope. They swiftly planted a variety of seeds including millet, beans, watermelon and pumpkin.

However, their crops were doomed as the rains became heavier, washing away the seedlings and portions of his land.

“If it was not for this assistance, I would not have the necessary food for my medication to be effective,” he says of the WFP cash, “and I would have to sell one of my goats for money for my family’s needs.”

The cash transfers have strengthened the local economy and allowed families to buy a variety of foods, some of which are grown locally, resulting in more diverse diets,

“Cash-Based Transfers (CBT) put money directly in the hands of the poorest households so they can afford better nutrition and essentials for their children and family, ” says George Fedha, WFP Country Director in Namibia.

Hotter and drier

WFP’s support is even more essential as climate change gathers force — in a country that is already one of the driest in sub-Saharan Africa, with persistent droughts, erratic rainfall and water scarcity. Experts predict that Namibia’s climate will become hotter and drier over the coming five decades, with greater variability in rainfall.

For 39-year-old farmer Kasesa Tjiruviri, a mother of six, WFP’s cash support has also helped her weather tough times.

“This year, we planted seeds but like the rest of the farmers in this village we were unable to harvest any produce due to the floods,” Kasesa says. “We planted again after the water subsided, but our crops got stunted with the onset of winter.”

During the summer, her family earns money from selling firewood, earning less than US$7 on a good day—just enough to buy the corn flour, oil and sugar to prepare one meal for the family.

“Most of my clients are about 70 km from my village and sometimes I sell enough to pay for my transport. However, in most cases I have to walk to get to them,” she says.

“I am grateful for the cash support,” she adds of WFP’s assistance, which she used to buy food and blankets for her children, while putting some aside as savings.

With the money, Kasesa says, “I feel empowered to start another business which can sustain my family.”

Lean more about WFP's work in Namibia