We fail to support farmers at our own peril
By Lt Gen (rtd) Denga Ndaitwah
THE omission in Namibia’s Agricultural Policy of financial support by the government to the farming industry is the missing link in our food security policy. Instead of government providing financial support for the success of the farming industry, the industry is left squarely in the hands of individual farmers to fail.
It is also outlined in that policy that due to climatic conditions commercial farmers are predominantly engaged in livestock farming with small-stock dominating the activities in the south, while the central and northern part of the country is more suitable for large stock production.
The policy further recognised the stumbling blocks by international trade restrictions that prohibit the movement of large stock, while restricting the movement of small stock and livestock products from the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs). From the above, the failure to remove the NCA cordon (the Red Line) after 30 years of independence is an acceptance of the fact that we must continue with the economic lockdown of millions of dollars from international trade.
On crop production, the policy states that “subsistence farmers do produce millet, maize, sorghum and leguminous. However, due to climatic changes, shortages of labour at household level and increasing pressure on the land due to population growth, most subsistence farmers do not produce sufficient crops to sustain them until the next harvesting season.”
While I fully agree on the harsh climate conditions caused by external factors, the government could have capitalised on alternatives, including irrigation systems. At the same time, if the government had embarked on intensive agricultural schemes, we have human capital in abundance that could make a contribution to agriculture if deliberately addressed as our first priority. That deliberate initiative could be a major contributing factor to employment and to the economy.
The same policy is linked to Vision 2030, our national grand strategy, which outlines the policy framework for long term national development. In essence, Vision 2030 consists of some critical elements: prosperity, harmony, peace and political stability.
The agriculture sector has aligned itself with these goals and is committed to make significant contributions to the overall goal of Vision 2030. One wonders whether those objectives, strategies and goals outlined in Vision 2030 will be realised.
It is necessary to unbundle the statements of the minister and acting permanent secretary. Generally, we cannot talk of agriculture activities without talking about land as a means of production. The Namibia Agriculture Policy clearly articulated its objectives and strategies as implementing tools. Whilst those are highly appreciated, the policy is silent on financial resources.
The exclusion of financial support will have great ramifications to our agriculture and food security. It is therefore, prima facie unavoidable that as long as that missing link between agriculture and financial resources remains unaddressed, Namibia will not achieve her goal of food production for food security.
Breeding animals, crop production, land management and skill are mutually inclusive elements that demand dedicated financial resources, which individual farmers will never afford without a helping hand from government.
CASH-COW FOR AGRIBANK
Speaking from practical experience, I bought a farm through Agribank nine years ago. Unlike commercial banks, the arrangement with Agribank is that one will start paying after a one-year cycle. The one-year cycle concept is based on the understanding that by that time a farmer must have secured funds through selling of animals and crops.
Without any exaggeration, for nine years now, I have been paying Agribank an amount of over half a million every year. Mind you, because of the high interest rate, a big chunk of payment until now has been going to service the interest rate, with little that has gone to the capital loan amount.
All these are clear testimony that farmers are a cash cow to an institution like Agribank, which is milking the farming industry to the bone instead of providing them with financial assistance.
After nine years, I have never benefitted from my farm as all the returns continue to go to Agribank. For a farmer to be able to pay so much every year and avoid repossession of their farm by Agribank, one must rear animals or produce crops.
Commercially, in the farming industry – particularly animal husbandry – there is need for empathy. By honouring their commitments to Agribank, it is highly likely that by the time a farm is fully paid off, the only asset one will be left with is non-productive land, as the farmer would be penniless and unable to replenish even their livestock owing to Agribank loan payments.
That is the harsh reality facing farmers in this country.
Agribank, which was supposed to be a government financing arm to help the farming industry is given carte blanche without government intervention and control. As long the status quo continues, this country will remain dependent on other nations as far as food security is concerned.
Mark my words, there shall be no self-sufficiency and self-reliance in food production in this country.
Looking beyond the horizon of individual perception, the world is a global village where international trade happens without break. Namibia is a country recognised for its prime beef. For that reason and because of globalisation, our government has concluded trade agreements with the European Union, China and United States of America to supply them with beef.
We must be proud that Namibia is the first country on the African continent to enter into such mammoth trade agreements with those giant countries. Should Namibia honour these trade agreements, there should be huge returns from which the country will benefit.
However, whilst those trade agreements will have economic benefits for the country, they will also have some challenges and complications. One of the major challenges this government will face is to constantly supply beef to a population of over two billion of those three countries combined.
The other challenge is whether our government will honour its obligation of supplying those countries with the required tonnages without the dedicated financial assistance to the farming industry in this country. If government is to honour those commitments, there is need to weigh up realities against wishful thinking, and not just by way of thumb-sucking.
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* Lt Gen (Rtd) Denga Ndaitwah is a former Chief of the Defence Force, a holder of Master’s degree in Strategic Studies, HOD and senior lecturer at IUM. Views expressed here are that of an author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org