Namibia’s largest grain processor, Namib Mills, has confirmed increases from April 25 for wheat flour, pasta, bread, rice, maize flour, instant porridge and sugar. This is happening alongside a tripling of the price of cooking oil and sharp increases in the price of gasoline, which will drive further increases in food items.
Rising food prices will have a devastating effect on already poor Namibians, who will be pushed further into poverty. This poses a serious threat to the food security, health and education of many Namibians. This will make life even more difficult for Namibians who struggle to afford the very basics that sustain life. People will have to spend more money on food, which will take away from spending on health, education and transportation.
This means that people will find it increasingly difficult to access health services and that there will be no money for transport with which, for example, to send children to school. Many Namibians will also be unable to afford the expenses related to their children’s education, as having food to stay alive will be a priority.
The rise in food prices is attributed to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which has led to shortages of wheat and sunflower products and an increase in global fuel prices. For the past five years, Namibia has imported most of its wheat requirements from Russia. Overall, Namibia imports 60% of total domestic consumption requirements, with most imports coming from South Africa.
This leaves Namibia at high risk of food insecurity, especially among the unemployed and those living below the poverty line. Therefore, serious efforts should be made to improve food security in Namibia by localizing food production to reduce dependence on other countries. Increasing localized food production around existing dams and rivers must be a key objective, as it will also increase agricultural employment, for example in the form of agricultural cooperatives.
The current increases in food prices are accompanied by rising utility bills, such as electricity, water and other municipal services, which will make it difficult for Namibians to pay their utility bills.
This will lead to people losing their homes to foreclosures, thus forcing them to settle in squatter camps, which poses risks to their safety and health.
This will lead to more land-related conflicts, where land grabbing out of desperation will increase. The rising cost of living will push more people into extreme poverty. This will in turn lead to more crimes, homicides, GBV and suicides, which have already increased over the past five years. The suicide rate in Namibia is estimated to be double the world average, and it is mainly due to financial stress.
These are ingredients that can lead to widespread discontent and civil unrest. In this context, the recently launched Social Protection Policy 2021-2030 was to define comprehensive interventions to achieve poverty eradication, as stated by the President upon taking office in 2015.
The policy states that social protection should help people “cope with risks, vulnerabilities and shocks throughout their life cycle”. This includes poverty, disease, hunger, lack of income, inability to access education, sanitation, housing, etc. Policy documents have played an important role in reducing the poverty gap, especially the universal old age pension.
However, when it comes to actual interventions, the document does not propose any new or bold measures. It does not even introduce a universal child allowance, which was still envisaged in the 2019 draft policy.
Instead, the policy simply proposes to maintain child allowances, old-age allowances, disability allowances and veterans’ allowances.
This is not enough to deal with the current crisis facing most Namibian households.
On February 9, 2022, the Chief Economist of the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Poverty Eradication, Marta Kanyama, promised during the Namibian Sun’s Evening Review interview that the government would implement in 2025 a Basic Income Allowance (BIG) program of N$500/person/month for all Namibians. aged 19 to 59.
But this is not included in the recently launched social protection policy.
Does this mean that the government made empty promises?
Namibia’s BIG Coalition and numerous experts have repeatedly highlighted the threat that poverty and inequality pose to Namibia’s peace, security and stability.
Namibia is one of the countries with the highest inequalities.
A recent World Bank report reveals that 64% (1.6 million) of Namibians live in poverty and are unable to meet basic needs and lead a minimally decent life.
Namibia has a youth unemployment rate of around 50% and the country faces a ‘double burden’ of persistent malnutrition and rising rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases.
According to the United Nations World Report on Food Crises 2020, 859,898 Namibians are constantly stressed about where they will go to get their next meal, of which 447,577 are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Malnutrition remains the leading cause of death among children under five in Namibia.
The implementation of redistributive cash transfer programs, such as a universal BIG, has proven, through their effects on reducing poverty and inequality, to play an important role in resolving the crisis.
We call on our government to take urgent action to address the needs and discontent of increasingly hungry Namibians.
We therefore reiterate our call on the government to urgently implement a universal/unconditional BIG program of at least N$500 per month.
This will be a comprehensive intervention, unlike the proposed conversion of the Harambee Food Bank and the Feeding Program for Marginalized People, which only target 45,000 people and therefore omit most people in need.
We need to ensure that we address poverty holistically without burdening the poor with cumbersome and cumbersome processes and penalties by making the subsidy means-tested.
This is why a universal BIG for all Namibians, alongside universal child benefit and social pensions, is the best option to tackle hunger and poverty head-on.
We call on our political leaders to hear the cries of those who are poor and left behind and to take decisive action to end generational poverty.