Windhoek — Farmers in the Karas Region, especially those who are part of the government's resettlement programme, are complaining about a severe shortage of water and broken or dilapidated water infrastructure.
In addition, the general view of farmers in the region is that the country's land reform programme is a noble idea, but it is not correctly implemented. They say resettled farmers are expected to farm commercially, although they do not have access to start-up capital nor do they receive sufficient support from the government.
Shortly after independence, the government embarked on the current land reform programme to resettle previously disadvantaged Namibians. The programme consists of two different strategies, which are resettlement and the transfer of commercially viable agricultural land.
Resettlement is aimed at improving the lives of displaced or dispossessed previously disadvantaged individuals. Farms obtained by government for resettlement purposes are usually demarcated into several units, and dozens of families are resettled on what had previously been one farm.
Government does not directly transfer commercial agricultural land, instead would-be farmers with a previously disadvantaged background obtain farms privately or through affirmative action loans.
In both cases, the "willing buyer, willing seller" principle applies. Poor farmers, who do not really have an additional income, simply stay without water or depend on the mercy of their neighbours who might have the means to fix their water infrastructure themselves.
After a farm has been acquired, it sometimes lies idle for at least a year or more, due to bureaucratic processes, which results in farms being looted, mostly of its water infrastructure and fencing materials.
Upon resettlement, new farmers have to struggle to fix the water infrastructure themselves, while waiting and hoping for government assistance.
Some farms may originally have had only one main water point and when the farms are divided, the family which is unfortunate enough to be allocated a portion with no water infrastructure normally has to make plans to get water to their homestead.
This is usually done by piping water from the main water point or by making alternative plans to get water.
The Minister of Lands and Resettlement Alpheus !Naruseb recently said an amount of N$21 million was spent during the last financial year on the rehabilitation of water infrastructure that involved major water infrastructural development on resettlement farms.
Perhaps, that assistance still has to reach farmers in the Karas Region, because most of the resettlement farms in the region currently do not have sufficient water. Some farmers also complain that they cannot access loans, because the Agricultural Bank does not want to provide loans, saying their allotments are too small and are not economically viable.
Farmers with large numbers of livestock agree that their land allotments are too small and that they cannot farm to the optimum.
The ministry in partnership with Agribank avails a joint financial package worth N$20 million per annum at subsidised interest rate to resettled farmers.
To date, it is reported that 475 resettled farmers have benefited from this loan facility.
Most of the original farmhouses in the region are now in a dilapidated condition, while some farmers live in simple, makeshift houses, although they have been farming for over a decade.
Farms in the Karas Region are very big compared to the rest of the country, due to the aridity of the region. Some farms are as big as 7 000 hectares. However, it is not uncommon to find some farmers with livestock numbers as small as 30 goats and three donkeys.
Farmers in the region mostly farm with small livestock such as sheep and goats. The region is not ideal for cattle farming.
Squatting in the region is not so common as in the Hardap Region, perhaps due to the more arid nature of the Karas Region compared to the Hardap Region. Many farms are empty with gates locked and no sign of any life.
Some beneficiaries even returned their allotments to the government, since it is hard to farm in a region that is unfamiliar to the region from which they hail originally.
Some people have simply taken over unoccupied farms, after finding out that their farms are too dry or do not have water at all.
Some farmers do not even claim land allocated to them under the resettlement scheme, because the farm are inaccessible, especially if the area is mountainous.
However, on the brighter side, the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS) farmers in the region are doing very well and are very optimistic about their future farming prospects.
A New Era team visited over 40 farms, both AALS and resettlement farms, in the Karas and Hardap regions during the past two weeks to talk to Namibia's land reform beneficiaries.
The paper will feature stories from the farmers themselves, during the next two to three weeks.