1 February 2013

Namibia: Communal Farmers Cry Foul

COMMUNAL farmers in the Karas Region are accusing livestock auctioneers of colluding to keep animal prices low and to make exorbitant profits at the expense of poor farmers.

The farmers The Namibian spoke to said there is no competitive bidding at auctions where poor communal farmers sell their stock. "It is a question of take it or leave it," one farmer said.

"It is a well-documented fact that most of the livestock sold at commercial auctions at places like Keetmanshoop, Asab, Gibeon, Berseba and Koës are owned by communal farmers, hence the continued absence of competitive bidding, which is supposed to be [the] dominant characteristic of such auctions, culminates in what can be referred to as legalised theft of the means of subsistence of the poorest farmers," said communal farmer Jegg Christiaan.

Calling on auctioneers Agra and Namibia Livestock Auctioneers (NLA) to attract more buyers to their auctions, Christiaan remarked: "I believe strongly that Agra and NLA have the responsibility to ensure that they do not help create a few millionaire goat and sheep barons from the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of poor communal farmers".

Christiaans warned that if collusion is not nipped in the bud, buyers would continue to offer communal farmers "peanuts" for their goats, and the "vicious cycle of poverty will last with no end in sight".

Another farmer, Lukas Apollus, was of the same view that livestock buyers are colluding to control livestock prices.

"At auctions they [buyers] create an impression that they are competing against each other, however, since they are too familiar with each other, they set prices at which they would buy livestock at the auctions."

The farmers also claimed that auctioneers of Agra ignore the meat price per kilogram set by Meatco when determining the opening bids.

Livestock buyer Marius Blaauw rejected the monopoly accusations.

"It is not that we want to buy the farmers' products at a cheap price, but the drop in demand for goats is influencing the price," said Blaauw.

Justifying the drop in demand, Blaauw said buyers exported 18 000 goats to the South African market last year compared to 40 000 two years ago.

"In five to ten years down the line, the demand for goat products in the South African market will drop to such an extent that there will be no exports," he said.

Blaauw added that South African buyers have stopped bidding at auctions held by NLA and Agra because of the drop in demand.

According to Blaauw, buyers make a paltry profit of N$20 per sheep.

A commercial farmer, who prefers anonymity, said South African buyers flooded the NLA and Agra auctions in the past, but stopped after their Namibian counterparts reported to the authorities that they were doing business illegally in the country.

Agra's regional livestock coordinator in the south, George Pearson, and NLA agent Hermanus Louwrens refused to comment and referred The Namibian to their head offices in Windhoek and Mariental respectively, which could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print.

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