They say you can’t criticise a farmer with your mouth full of food. While local farmers, particularly those in the agronomy sector enjoyed an array of benefits, more so - with Government’s Green Scheme project, local meat producers were sparking ‘beef’ with Government.
Below is a summary of some of the lowest lows and highest highs that characterised this ‘farming year’. We shall throw our thumbs up for the ‘highs’ and bury our thumbs in the ground for the ‘lows.’
The Meat Corporation of Namibia (Meatco) and farmers irritated Government and vice-versa. The bone of contention is that Government is vying for shareholding in Meatco while farmers are adamant that Government is not a producer, hence does not qualify.
Government decided about a year ago that Meatco be structured along the principles of a co-operative, to broaden participation in membership of the company sparking an outcry from the farming sector.
The State intends to gobble about 30% shareholding in the trading company, while the producers will have 70% of the shares, purportedly due to the fact that the meat industry has been declared a strategic industry and that it is dependent on business climate changes.
However, a working group comprising of Meatco and numerous farmers’ organisations was established by the farmers to scrutinise the matter and as it is right now, both the working group and the Government are caught up in a fierce stand-off.
Their position that farmers would ‘solely’ own the company, apparently irked Government prompting a statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, John Mutorwa. He maintained that the use of the word ‘solely’ in the media release’s heading was pre-emptive, presumptuous and unfortunate, because “it fundamentally contradicts and negates the essence of Cabinet Additional Resolution 2”. Late last month, Meatco handed over a joint proposed operational structure and legal framework for its ownership to Mutorwa.
And in the aforementioned press statement, the working group stated that Government will be accommodated only on a supervisory committee to oversee the new structure during the transitional period of the first five years. In addition, it will have a veto right on special resolutions only and not on operational matters of the company. The working group further maintained that benefits resulting from the operations of the structure will be distributed based on levels of contribution and patronage.
The Namibia National Farmer’s Union (NNFU) at its 2011 national council reiterated the position of farmer’s who dispute Government’s membership.
But then, the mother of all contradictions reared its head. Other media reports suggest that the former vice president of the – same – NNFU, Eepri Ngaujake, rejected this notion, charging that currently, “whites say blacks are not producers and that because whites are the main producers and this could lead to Meatco becoming a one-way street”. He wants Government to have at least 50% stake in the entity so as to protect black communal farmers who are still poor as a result of the past Apartheid legacy. He is reportedly not buying the saying that, “‘white farmers’ borrowed money from the previous dispensation to establish the entity of which they reportedly repaid. The ‘white farmers’ reportedly established entities as a result of their awareness that the Apartheid regime was about to crumble. If one is to translate - the establishment of such entities were built on some ‘twisted foresight’ of the previous masters--we do not draw the race card, so thumbs down!
Mutorwa ran a final decision by Cabinet on the matter and it will be revealed in the first quarter of next year--until then, the thumps are still in the ground.
Communal Auction facilities
Take it from me. Mutorwa will not be welcomed at any meat producer’s Christmas party this season as his ministry - again - annoyed the meat producers. This time, the MAWF invited interested Namibians to lease and manage communal livestock auction facilities in the regions; a function, which was previously done by farmers’ unions and associations in the regions. Amidst the expression of displeasure by some individuals and associations, Government charged that the communal auction facilities are still the property of the State thus the subleasing of such facilities, management, usage, and maintenance remains the prerogative of Government. The lease period is for five years and the lease amounts will also not be the same, as not all facilities are the same. The NNFU charged that leasing these facilities will give advantage to bigger entities like Agra and Namboer and with both of these companies being having the monopoly in the selling and buying of animals, communal farmers will have less bargaining power--we hate fights, so thumbs down!
Abolishment of levies
Government’s decision to do away with levies of a lion`s share of which are paid by meat producers might guarantee pieces of meat in the pots of the Ministry’s top management. But they seemingly will need to reinforce the security if they are to enjoy their pieces of meat in peace. The NNFU, which raises a considerable chunk of its revenue from these levies, will not have any of this. The organisation runs on an operational budget of between N$2m and N$4m annually. The union receives 40% to 50% of the levies, which are paid by the Namibian producers.
More white maize = more pap and money
There will be enough of Namibia`s staple food – pap- this season. The white maize harvest for the year was good; a total of about 50 000tons, which represents approximately 45% of national consumption, was yielded – and this was only second to the harvest of 2004. Within this scenario, irrigation production accounted for just over 50%, which follows a predictably increasing pattern.
By March last year, it appeared that the maize harvest for the year under review would be similar. With the anticipated expansion of the Green Scheme project, the long-term prognosis, which was that the overall white production of the country would tilt upwards was realised. Good thing, thumbs up!
More fruits and money in the bank
Namibians have proven to be fresh fruit eaters. Otherwise, there would not have been fruit hawkers around each street corner. Now things are bound to get better as Government this year unveiled plans for the construction of multi-million-dollar fresh produce hubs across the country. Also, the country reached a net import substitution level of about 27% on horticultural products. Meaning that, the Namibia`s Market Share Promotion (MSP), in terms of importers being required to purchase an escalating minimum percentage of their turnover within Namibia, is actually working. The MSP is underpinned by the availability of detailed production, marketing and import database. The increase to 27% reaffirms the steadily upward curve from only 7% when this initiative was started some years ago. There is, therefore, ample room to double the current domestic production to the 60% that is seen as a possibility. Another good thing, thumbs up!
RPRP projects spot on
Not all projects implemented in Namibia get to do the homerun. So, also counting as a high for this agricultural year is the implementation of two major projects; one for Draught Animal Power (DAP), which was facilitated by the European Union (EU) in collaboration with the Regional Poverty Reduction Programme (RPRP) and other projects on Conservation Agriculture and Tillage, which was facilitated by the Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust/Gart and the EU-RPRP. These projects were completed by the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB). The Draught Animal Acceleration Project (DAPAP); also a NAB project, which trained 4500 grassroots farmers, has also been named the best implemented RPRP project by the EU office in Windhoek. Something to learn from, thumbs up!
Agribank getting smart
This year, Agribank finally got out of its offices and took to the field – where agriculture actually happens. Out there, it discovered that communal farmers need to be empowered and brought to a standard where they can produce food. The bank is now exploring avenues through which communal farmers could be awarded loans by the bank without the need for them to furnish the bank with any form of collateral. Collateral remains the only thorny issue between Namibia’s poor rural areas and decent livelihoods. So, this by far – in the author’s opinion – is the best decision that the folks at the bank have ever come up with, thumbs up. The Farmers’ Support Project (FSP) is another initiative of the bank and the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement, which was launched to capacitate farmers. Right direction, thumbs up!
The above are but only a few of many successes and near misses for the farming year, 2011. But not all is lost, because with every summer comes the rain. Happy farming, happy holidays. Remember not to slaughter the bull. You will need it!