The Farmers Mentorship Program, an initiative of the Livestock Producers Forum (LPF) and the Meat Board of Namibia, is making considerable progress in improving the livelihoods of communal farmers.
The program, which currently completed its third year, was initiated to create market access for cattle farmers to produce and market beef cattle for export markets as well as enable export-approved abattoirs in the northern part of the country to operate at full through put levels.
Seven regions in the Northern Communal Areas (NCA) benefit from the program where farmers are advised and encouraged to invest in their herds. According to Paul Strydom, General Manager of the Meat Board of Namibia, the program is unique in that it works with a selected number of producers in each of the seven regions to spearhead the process of change in perception in the entire area. "The program attempts to change communal producers' perceptions so that they can abandon their traditional outlook and embrace market-oriented systems of production," said Strydom.
He said although the initial plan was to select, train and mentor 50 producers per region, which is a total of 350 farmers across the entire seven regions, the number was adjusted to 899 because of the overwhelming interest among the producers. The Meat Board of Namibia has over the past three years assessed the performance of the program and Strydom admits that strong indications show that the program is making considerable progress in terms of implementing key program activities. He says the response from farmers was overwhelming and many tend to travel long distances just to attend training and mentoring sessions.
The program is however experiencing challenges because the farmers that directly participate in the mentorship program represent only a small percentage of farm households owning cattle in the NCA's. Hence the program has introduced initiatives such as annual regional and constituency based farmer's information days and one hour interactive educational radio talk shows on cattle in indigenous languages, which are all aimed at disseminating livestock management knowledge and skills, targeting the wider livestock producers in the communities.
With the financial aid from the Finnish Embassy, the program launched its Farmers Booklets which deals with the marketing and animal health management. Over 5000 booklets which are translated into seven local languages have been distributed to various farmers. "This book offers an important tool in the process of capacity building and training provided for the northern communal farmers," said Charge d'Affaires of Finland, H.E. Anne Saloranta.
Saloranta further stated that the Finish Embassy is currently funding its second project with the Meat Board of Namibia which will focus on exploring alternative markets for Namibian beef, particularly in the context of the ongoing European Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations and the need to diversify the country's export markets.
In the program's 2012 self-evaluation exercise, mentors across the regions estimated that 10% more farmers marketed cattle since the inception of the program. The mentorship program operates in 42 constituencies of the seven northern regions and has 14 experienced mentors who provide training to a total of 948 mentees.