Ongwediva — Agriculture in Omusati Region, which over the years has been a fresh produce basket for other northern regions, is gradually sliding back due to lack of market for local horticultural products.
In an interview with New Era, Omusati Regional Governor Erginus Endjala said farmers in his region are crippled and demoralised as there is no market for their produce.
In fact, the absence of vegetables from Etunda and Olushandja is evident from fewer butternut and tomatoes being sold by street vendors in the neighbouring regions.
The available ones are sourced from south of the redline, mostly from Otavi, but they are not available on a regular basis.
Over the years, small-scale farmers at Olushandja and Etunda irrigation project in Omusati Region have been supplying other regions with fresh maize, tomatoes, cabbage, butternuts, onions, and others.
Street vendors enjoyed the spillovers of these supplies after supermarkets that were major merchants for such produce started sourcing most produce from Agro Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA)
Although the agency has other functions, AMTA's hubs are established as centres for farmers and traders to do business. Small-scale farmers envisaged AMTA as their point of breakthrough into the stiff agro-market. However these farmers are yet to see the benefits.
The potential buyers are still sourcing fruits and vegetables from well-established producers in the country and abroad.
Worse, the current economic downturn has also forced producers to produce much less than before as household consumers are also not buying as usual.
Last year's large yield of tomatoes went to waste as farmers produced more than they could sell.
But Endjala maintains that AMTA as a regulatory authority that gives permission to import fruits and vegetables should play a better role in ensuring that it does not allow imports of fresh produce that is available locally.
He further argued that a market for local producers can only be established if government institutions are compelled to procure food for feeding schemes, schools, hospitals and prisons from local farmers.
Jacob Hamutenya, the general manager for AMTA in Ongwediva, however maintained that it is not within AMTA's mandate to decide if one should or should not import certain goods.
Hamutenya said AMTA regulates controlled crops imported or exported out of Namibia and issues import or export permits. He said permits are only issued once it is proven that a trader has complied with the government's trade rules as well as import and export policies and regulations.
For example, if the law says that one must source a certain percentage of products locally, all the applicant needs to do is to prove that they have indeed complied. "It is not within our mandate to compel them to buy more local products if they have complied with the policy," he said.
Hamutenya however agreed that it is of utmost importance to create a market for small-scale farmers and called for deliberate action to be taken in that regard.
Olushandja-based farmer Sylvanus Naunyango said small-scale farmers can only access the market if AMTA is utilised as it was intended to be.
"Government created AMTA to address the imbalances that exist in the market. That mandate can be fulfilled if government passes a policy that would compel all farmers to sell their products through AMTA. Government also needs to come up with a policy that will compel companies contracted for catering services at schools, hospitals and prisons to exclusively source the food from local producers," said Naunyango.