Previously Disadvantaged Namibian (PDN) Commercial Farmers Union is disturbed by the silence shrouding the agenda of the upcoming Second National Land Conference regarding the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme (AALS).
The newly established PDN says in its position paper on the said land conference on October 1-5 that the AALS programme is currently facing serious existential challenges as those who have entered it are finding the going too tough while it has effectively ceased to be accessed by new entrants. The difficulties experienced by the beneficiaries of this scheme are now also putting serious constraints on the viability of the Agricultural Bank of Namibia.
The problems being experienced by the PDN commercial farmers have led to most of the farms purchased under the scheme to date being sub-divided and recycled among the PDNs to meet loan repayment commitments. This effectively has created a zero-sum game in terms of actual increase in the total hectares being transferred to farmers, says the union.
The targeted ten million hectares of land to be bought under this scheme is therefore in serious jeopardy. "The recent announcement by Agricultural Bank of Namibia of its intention to auction some of these farms due to loan repayment arrears, would seriously serve to reverse some of the gains of land reform achieved to date," read the position paper.
The Union says AALS is also completely excluded from the discussion about key structures of land ownership among other tools which would be reviewed and discussed at the land conference. To date, AALS has yielded about 3.4 million hectares of commercial farm land to previously disadvantaged Namibians. This is marginally higher than the 3.2 million hectares delivered by the national resettlement program to date according to the position paper. Thus an in depth evaluation of this scheme is required if the scheme is to remain a relevant and effective channel of land reform and redistribution. Therefore the silence on this scheme at the upcoming land conference is difficult to understand especially at a time when it is facing serious problems, says the union.
That is why the farmers, especially the recipients of Affirmative Action loans from the Agricultural Bank primarily, have resolved to organise themselves into a union chaired by Jane Kuhanga who is deputised by Mbakumua Hengari to coordinate their efforts in dealing with the challenges that are confronting them, and the AALS. They demand that, the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme should be made one of the key intervention tool of land reform and redistribution and be reviewed, discussed and strengthened during the 2nd National Land conference, government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) must ensure that inputs from this vital stakeholders in land reform and redistribution get an opportunity to share their experiences to enhance the policy formulation that would strengthen this vital channel of land reform going forward. They also said the government must facilitate a platform for the union to present their position paper at the land conference.
The union further pleads with the land conference to resolve in principle for the continuation of the AALS as one of the interventions necessary to effect land reform and redistribution, to optimise the continued delivery of land reform through this vehicle, the land conference must also resolve to recommend a comprehensive review of the Affirmative Action Loan Scheme. Such a review should have the primary objectives of assessing and determining an optimum funding model for the Agricultural Bank of Namibia to reduce its reliance on the AALS for its financial viability, evaluating the current AALS loan book within the Agricultural Bank of Namibia to get an appreciation of the problems that these new land owners are facing as a group to help devise appropriate remedies that would act to serve both the interest of the bank and the scheme. Amending some of the key terms and conditions of the AALS such as interest rate charged on the purchase of land and the period over which such loans are repaid. The land conference must recommend for an extension of the repayment period to a minimum of 33 years and a maximum interest rate of two percent (2 percent) on the purchase of commercial farm land.
Finally, such a review should seek to find a lasting solution to stand-off between the farmers and the Agricultural Bank of Namibia, focusing mainly on the preservation of the land reform gains achieved so far.