By: Vetondouua Tjivikua
Acting managing director of AgriBusDev, Berfine Antindi, says she expects locals in the bidding process for the 11 green scheme irrigation farms.
This comes after agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein announced during the Namibia Investment Summit at World Expo 2020 in Dubai that the 11 green scheme irrigation farms in Namibia will be put on the market for foreign investors between May and July this year through a request for proposals.
The 11 green scheme projects that will be on the market include the Orange River, Hardap, Etunda, Musese, Sikondo, Uvungu-Vungu, Ndonga-Linena, Mashare, Shadikongoro, Kalimbeza and Shitemo green scheme farms.
According to her, locals who are ready to invest in the green scheme projects should be given a chance.
Antindi said this is an opportunity for the locals, even though they might be financially challenged because the investments are costly.
“I’m not sure whether the locals are ready to have the finances required to operate the green scheme,” she said.
She further added that potential local bidders should be supported through funds like the GIPF, where they could be granted loans.
“I’m sure there are investors in this country who can make it if they are properly supported,” she said.
She also said that despite wanting local investors to participate in the sale, locals were once given an opportunity at the Etunda and Ndonga-linena green scheme farms, but they did not last long because of the disputes between the government and the investors.
According to Antindi, these were light disputes that could have been easily resolved but ended without a solution.
She further stated that Namibia has graduates in the agriculture field sitting with their qualifications.
“We can ask the government to talk to investors so their
company gives 30 per cent share to this group of youth so that you can work together as partners,” Antindi said.
She said the farmland is a national asset; therefore, it should accommodate the locals.
“As much as we need those from outside, because they have what we don’t have in terms of money, they should come here to teach the youth how it should be done,” she said.
Namibia local business Association (Naloba) vice president Peter Kanu Amadhila says the association condemns the government’s intentions to lease the green scheme farms to international investors.
“We would like the government to consider putting a full stop to such an intention”, he said.
Amadhila stated that government must grant opportunities to the local Namibian community through Naloba.
“This will create employment opportunities for the Namibian people and contribute to successful food security in the country, and it must be granted to Namibians through Naloba.”
According to Amadhila, Naloba will produce surplus production for export to other markets like Dubai.
“We as Namibian local business community cannot afford our green schemes to be operated by foreigners and international investors while our Namibian local business community has the capability to run and operate these schemes productively, profitably and sustainably,” he stressed.
He further said that where external capability or finances and skills are required, the local business community will take care of that on their terms and conditions.
“We want to be given these schemes and run them ourselves,” he said.
He further added that the Namibian businessmen and women must embark and operate on these projects through Naloba.
“If there are any skills or financial capability needed from outside, we will source it ourselves. Then an investor can come from outside at our terms and conditions”, Amadhila stated.
Amadhila urged the government to realise that the true and permanent investors are the local businessfolk.
“Business investment opportunities should be given to them before they are taken outside the country.”
The Naloba vice-leader added that Namibians at the foreign operated scheme at Etunda under the green asparagus scheme are always complaining. He said they are underpaid, yet it is an international investment.
“This is why we want to recommend heavily that our green scheme should be allocated to Namibians through Naloba,” Amadhila said.
In 2019, the agriculture ministry had said it would lease out seven of its 11 green schemes to the private sector after failing to sustain operations.
The 11 green schemes have been underfunded for the last five years, leading to the projects screeching to a halt.
AgriBusDev, a custodian of the government green scheme under the agriculture ministry, was allowed to retain only four projects under its management.
It started operating in 2013, managing 11 projects across the country, most of them concentrated in the Kavango East and West regions along the Okavango River.
One of the small-scale farmers at Ndonga Linena said any investor who will take over the green scheme would have to establish the project because there is nothing left.
AgriBusDev manages Ndonga Linena green scheme as one of the 11 projects.
Boysen Mutelo, one of the 26 small-scale farmers at the Kavango East project, said they had not produced anything since 2018.
Ndonga Linena was one of the first green schemes established in the Kavango regions. Debushing started in 2003, but production got off the ground in 2010. The green scheme has 800 hectares, and the water and electricity were installed long before production started.
Each farmer was given six hectares and a loan of N$362 000 from Agribank. 80 per cent of the loan was from government, while 20 per cent was from Agribank.
Mutelo told Eagle FM this week that they do not have inputs and that out of the 12 tractors, only one is functioning.
Mutelo said the functioning tractor is not a 4×4 and cannot do much of the work the small-scale farmers would want done.
He said the other 11 tractors have no tyres and that over the years, the service provider would strip parts to keep other tractors going.
“The tractors have been broken down for the past five months now,” Mutelo said.
Mutelo said they have six water pumps, but just two are working. Apart from the non-functioning water pumps, Mutelo said the farmers use one boom sprayer.
Although the power has not been disconnected in recent months, Mutelo said NoRed used to plunge them into darkness every two months for non-payment.
He said in the beginning, the situation was encouraging.
According to Mutelo, the problems started when AgriBusDev took over as the service provider. This was when the small-scale farmers had to pay high rates for almost everything.
The situation worsened when AgriBusDev came on board to manage the green scheme. AgriBusDev brought in more charges and an additional 5 per cent charge on top of the 4 per cent the farmers were paying to Agribank.
Mutelo further said water and electricity charges also doubled, making it very difficult for the farmers to make a profit.
“For example, the transport cost doubled because no one took the product to the nearest silos at Rundu but rather to Tsandi.
He said the new companies that came to work with the small scale farmers would be paid in August, for example, but deliver in March or April the following year.
Asked whether they followed up with AgriBusDev, Mutelo said they are sitting with piles of letters they wrote to the executive directors, the minister and even the Prime Minister but still got no responses.
“As we speak now, there is fertiliser donated by the Prime Minister’s Office as part of the drought relief programme, which is kept in one of the storerooms at the green scheme,” he said.
Mutelo said it was sad that instead of storing grain, they kept inputs.
The small-scale farmers pay an annual fee of N$11 200 per year for using the land. They also have to pay for water and electricity as well as fuel.
“We used to have wheat, but it was not paying because we only have six hectares. We sold Bokomo, and they graded the wheat either one, two or three. What saddened us most was that the wheat was mixed after grading,” Mutelo said.
He added that for grade one, Bokomo paid N$5 800, while for grade three, they paid N$1 800.
Mutelo said the service provider transported and marketed the product. He also said that the electricity and water charges were reasonable initially.
He further said they did not have any issues with selling their produce.
This, he added, went on from 2010 until about 2014, when the service provider brought in new suppliers who hiked the prices of inputs.
Nearly two years ago, Schlettwein allocated N$45 million to develop green scheme irrigation projects.
This was 37,6 per cent of the required amount for this project.
The green scheme programme is designed to maximise irrigation opportunities in the central-northern and north-eastern regions using the Kunene, Zambezi and Kavango rivers and promote agro projects in the south, using the Orange River and dams such as the Naute, Hardap and Neckartal.
Agriculture remains a strategic sector as it supports the livelihoods of about 70 per cent of the Namibian population, and it is the biggest employer with over 167 242 employees.