Some of these misconceptions include that the food bank is the proverbial silver bullet towards addressing poverty in Namibia, that some people will be left out in the quest to arrest hunger poverty, and that the food bank will create a dependency culture. These and other questions are topics of discussion in this article.
Is the food bank the ‘silver bullet’ towards addressing poverty in Namibia?
Perhaps the most often quoted misunderstanding about the food bank is that it represents government’s one and only grand solution (silver bullet or panacea) to the problem of poverty in Namibia. This is not the case though. The food bank represents only one of several strategies aimed at eradicating poverty in Namibia by 2025.
Since assuming office on the 21 March 2015, Dr Geingob, the President of the Republic of Namibia has on many occasions made it clear that poverty has many dimensions and, therefore, requires a multifaceted approach to be effectively eradicated.
Some of the dimensions of poverty include hunger, lack of shelter and sanitation, and access to education and health services.
In Namibia, the prevalence of poverty is also associated with income disparities and high unemployment, especially among the unskilled youth. In this connection, the president has stated on several occasions that one of the most effective ways of eradicating poverty would be through shared, inclusive economic growth and the creation of descent job opportunities for Namibians.
In addition to specific pro-poor growth enhancing economic policies [taxation, fiscal, monetary, trade and industrial], addressing the basic dimensions of poverty is equally, if not more, important in the quest for a poverty-free Namibia. This article, however, does not focus on economic policy matters, as well as other key dimensions of poverty, such as shelter, sanitation, education and health.
The food bank aims to address hunger in urban and peri-urban areas?
The food bank is one of the main strategies to addressing hunger in urban and peri-urban households. Other strategies continue to be the administration of some social grants for qualifying households in urban areas access. A few years ago, the Head of State one Sunday afternoon after church service, personally witnessed how many households in Katutura, were without food.
He realised that this was likely to be the situation in many urban and peri-urban areas in Namibia [the Katuturas of Namibia]. The experience resonated so much with the president (he calls it an epiphany) that he, there and then, resolved to do whatever it would take to eradicate poverty in all its dimensions, in particular hunger poverty in Namibia.
Although prior to becoming the third president of our republic, that particular event could be seen as the day that war against poverty in Namibia and in particular the notion of food banks as an essential component in this war was conceived.
The launch of the pilot food bank in Tobias Hainyeko on 30 June, is thus much more than just one of the initial achievements of a
Harambee milestones. It also confirms the wisdom, that, even if one cannot do something about an evil immediately, one should never give up on a worthy idea. But, what about hunger of households in rural areas one may ask?
Well, the Harambee Plan, as well as the soon-to-be-released poverty eradication blue print contain a number of specific strategies on how to arrest poverty in general, and hunger poverty in rural areas in particular.
Many of these strategies centre on improved food security and the raising of agricultural productivity through support to small-scale farmers, including provision of subsidised seeds, farm implements and mechanical plough services.
Are there better ways of arresting hunger poverty and will food banks not create dependency?
There might be other better ways as arresting hunger poverty. Some that have been cited include the issuance of food vouchers and even credit cards to purchase specific approved food products from retailers. These continue to be on the radar of potential strategies being evaluated by government.
Although government, for now, is taking the lead in the promotion of food banks, the ultimate desire is that all Namibians, in the spirit of Harambee, should participate in the food bank. Farmers, retailers, churches and even ordinary individuals are welcome to contribute to and participate in the successful establishment and roll out of food banks in Namibia.
In fact, many have already started to donate various perishable and non-perishable food products to the food bank. The Association of Game Ranchers, for example have pledge 200 pieces of game towards the food bank, while many commercial farmers have pledged to donate cattle on an annual basis.
Some people – like the lady in the bible who gave everything she had to the cause of Christ – do not have much to contribute to the eradication of poverty and have come forward to pledge whatever little they have towards the upliftment of the less privileged. These are people that want to help, because they know what it means to be poor. The food bank presents an opportunity for all to become involved and to participate in the war against poverty.
As markets evolve and become more formalised and sophisticated the approach toward addressing hunger poverty among urban households may change. Government may at some stage completely pull out of the food bank and allow it to operate as charity organisations, just as in many advanced economies, including in the United States of America.
In the absence of markets failing to address this important social objective, government has no choice but to take the lead, as it has made the commitment that no one in Namibia should die for lack of food.
Will the food bank make Namibians lazy and create a dependency syndrome?
Firstly, there is no evidence that food banks around that world have led to a dependency culture, including in the United States that is often viewed as the ‘Mecca’ of capitalism and free market economics.
Secondly, Namibians are not lazy. Namibians are proud and dignified people. Namibians prefer to give than to take. Many poor Namibians have asked where they could donate towards the food bank and how they could get involved.
The reality, however, is that right now there are Namibians that are facing a difficult time, where a plate of food once a day will make a huge difference in their lives, as well as presenting them the opportunity to graduate out of poverty.
Now that free primary education up to Grade 12 has been introduced, imagine the difference a plate of food will make in the lives of those children whose parents cannot afford to provide – not by choice – the most basic of needs, namely a plate of food once a day.
The food bank should, therefore, be seen in the context of other measures aimed at addressing poverty. This is referred to as the integrated framework with a graduation component. The idea is create mobility among the poor so that beneficiaries will eventually be able to fend for themselves.
How will the food bank operate and what are the eligibility criteria?
The food banks will primarily be operated and managed by unemployed youth in urban and peri-urban areas. These unemployed youth will receive a minor stipend for services rendered and in this sense the food bank will represent some form a conditional income grant to them.
Inspired by the street committees responsible for the protection of the Cuban revolution, Namibian youth workers will also be organised around street committees.
In addition to dispensing food, these youth workers will also be trained in other social and communal upliftment aspects, for example checking that kids in the streets that they are responsible for are actually at school during school hours.
During the pilot phase the key qualifying criterion to access the food bank has been set at a monthly household income of not more than N$400. This criterion might change going forward. Local councillors and community members currently play a key role in identifying eligible households.