Last year, arguably the heaviest and most severe drought in the last three decades plunged Namibia into grave uncertainly when it came to feeds and subsequently the production of milk. Feed prices sky rocketed and the profitability of milk farmers was put in the shade.
In the same vein, apart from the court case which was made by importers against the limitation of the import of milk and certain dairy products, milk farmers also voluntarily forfeited 40 cents per litre in order to try and save the industry.
With local producers pinned to the floor, Government decided to protect the local dairy industry by limiting imports last year thereby helping members of the Dairy Producers Association to survive despite a year of crisis.
This resolution was then followed by recurring shortages of especially long-life milk on Namibian shop shelves. To date, these recurrent shortages of milk remain a major cause for concern on a national level as the custodians of our milk shelves, Namdairies continue to show that national demand of the commodity has on a number of occasions overwhelmed them.
Just last week, empty shelves characterized most retail outlets as Namdairies visibly failed to satisfy consumer demand. Sparking public outcry and panic, Namdairies moved quickly to dismiss any crisis talk and re-affirmed that they would in turn return with bumper milk supplies.
Having said this before and able to satisfy the demand on a short term basis, it has become a reality that milk shortages cannot be regarded as a thing of the past. Individuals have also resorted to artificial hording on the eves of weekends so just that they can be assured of having breakfast on Mondays.
Chairperson of the Namibia Dairy Producers Association (NDPA), Japie Engelbrecht, told New Era on the eve of the organization’s annual Dairy Producer of the Year Awards that took place on 21 July at Xain Quis in Gobabis, that it could take the industry up to two years to recover fully from the drought setbacks of 2013, which resulted in the local market being flooded with imported milk products.
“Drought severely affected dairy producers as fodder for all producers were hard to come by while prices for these products shot up drastically. Apart from that, local producers found it tough to sell their products because of the cheaper South African equivalents on our supermarket shelves with some of them selling for the same price as in South Africa, with no transport fees added.
“Local producers remain constantly under pressure to produce cheaper products but they have no control over the price consumers pay at the counter. My advice is to support retailers that sell Namibian milk products at the lowest prices. I am fully aware of international trade agreements but I cannot understand how foreigners who don’t own a single cow, don’t produce a single litre of milk on Namibian soil and create no employment can be allowed to bring the local industry to its knees. To pay less in the short-term for a product that is not necessarily hormone-free can turn into a nightmare in the long term. Namibian produced milk is guaranteed hormone-free. If our local dairy industry is destroyed by such opportunists, the price of their so-called cheap products will shoot up. We have already experienced this scenario with cheese. We just forget too easily”
Whilst his comments could be best in the drive for Namibianisation and the plight by the country to produce its own goods and self sustain free from heavy South African influence, the consumers have been the ones that have suffered in a binary manner. Apart from feeling the strains of not being sure when the next shortage, if any will be, the prices of the commodity have shot up owing to the acute demand that has characterized the industry.
With the limits on imports meant to benefit the locals in promoting home driven projects, the initiative has come back to bite the nation. Giant milk producers who have in the past helped keep milk commodity prices on a low and available on the shelves have succumbed to heavy losses and contemplate retrenching at least 300 employee in a bid to cut back on the stringent tight screws Namibia has imposed.
No one would ever fail to understand the masterstroke in government’s plans to promote local producers in light of Fourth National Development Plan (NDP4) and vision 2030. No one would ever have doubts on how every nation should empower its people and embrace the power of growth at home. It is only when such initiative come back to bite the same people meant to benefit that eyebrows are raised. In essence, high prices of milk that sometime goes ‘AWOL’ on retail shop shelves only means that producers have to step up and prove their worth at a time when government has given them more preference over their foreign counterparts.