Torra conservancy assists its farmers

Kunene Region Governor’s Special Adviser John Khamuseb
Kunene Region Governor’s Special Adviser John Khamuseb
Farmer Neels Adams
Farmer Neels Adams

An east wind whips across Torra Conservancy driving hot air to the coast, and while Swakopmund swelters, Bergsig and other Kunene settlements 100 kilometres inland struggle with a third year of savage drought.

The view towards the mountains is of uninterrupted brown stones without a wisp of dry grass in between. The remaining bushes and small trees offer little to the farmers’ goats, and to zebra, kudu and oryx. The springbok have moved elsewhere in search of whatever they can find.

A crisis faces Torra’s farmers. They have long been accustomed to human-wildlife conflict. Predator numbers have increased, thanks to conservation. Now that the drought is entrenched, antelope and other prey have dispersed, leaving the lions, hyaenas and jackals little option but to take the farmers’ livestock.

Now the pressing challenge is grazing conflict. The kudus and zebras remaining on the barren land scour the branches and earth for what they can find, leaving precious little for goats and the desert adapted Damara sheep, which also browse the bushes.

Although there are no clouds, there is a slight silver lining. Money that Torra Conservancy earns from tourism, and indirectly from the lions that prey on their cattle, is being used for drought relief to farmers.

On Saturday 9 July Torra Conservancy handed over N$50,000 worth of animal feed, straw and salt licks to the Bergsig Farmers Association, to keep their livestock alive. Torra has joint venture tourism agreements with Wilderness Safaris and Palmwag Lodge. The tourists who pay to see the big five also provide benefits to the people who live on the land and care for it.

Last year Torra set aside N$80,000 to compensate farmers who had suffered from conflict with wildlife. Payments were made for water infrastructure damaged by elephants, and to farmers who lost cattle, goats and sheep. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism paid a once-off contribution to Torra and all other conservancies of N$60,000 to offset stock losses. Although other conservancies have received top-ups from the Ministry, Torra has not.

However, Torra has its own source of income, and this year has not only raised the amount of money dedicated to compensation to farmers to N$180,000; it has extended the scheme to buy feed for farmers’ livestock.

Under the blazing sun, Torra Manager Emil Roman told the farmers: “Drought is here, but it won’t stop our desire for conservation. We will fight it with our prayers and conservation will win.”

Kunene Region Governor’s Special Adviser John Khamuseb attended the meeting, and spoke of the “dire straits” of the people. He pointed out that the government had delivered 36,000 bags of maize meal to the Opuwo warehouse, which Trustco and Etosha Fishing have added to with generous donations of maize, beef fat and dried fish, but the food is still in warehouses and not getting to the people, whom he described as “desperate.”

Farmer Neels Adams and his wife Maria listened attentively to Khamuseb’s speech. Many promises were made in the name of the Harambee programme, which is reportedly already running into delivery problems.

In Kunene, delivery of drought aid is needed now, and Torra Conservancy is delivering. Utilising the conservancy quota, one zebra was shot for those attending the meeting and a large plate presented to Khamuseb. Farmer Adams was grateful for the lunch, and much more so for the donation of feed, which will help to keep his small flock of goats alive.

Steve Felton
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