23 January 2019

Namibia: New Small-Scale Farmers Stranded

About 20 small-scale farmers who graduated from the Mashare Irrigation Training Centre in Kavango East last year, have missed out on the 2018/19 cropping season due to a lack of funds.

The farmers completed their training in July 2017, and were meant to prepare for crop farming at government green schemes such as Etunda, Musese and Vungu Vungu.

However, the Agricultural Business Development Agency (Agribusdev), which manages and supervises the green scheme programme, has no money to procure inputs for production.

Green schemes are part of former president Sam Nujoma's most ambitious and cherished agricultural projects.

In a letter dated 5 November 2018, Agribusdev, through its managing director Petrus

Uugwanga, requested for just over N$13 million from the ministry to accommodate the new small-scale irrigation farmers to ensure that the scheme produces adequate food for local consumption.

In the same letter, Uugwanga also pointed out that the company was busy developing a modality to fund small-scale farmers sustainably, whereby the farmers would be expected to build up their collateral to finance their production after the graduation of leaseholders' agreements.

However, the agriculture ministry's executive director, Percy Misika, told Uugwanga in a letter dated 27 November that "Given the current drastic decline in the uncommitted amount in the fund, the ministry is not in a position to make further explicit endorsements for commitments under the fund".

He instead advised that the cooperative loan guarantee fund provided by Agribank should remain in place as this is the only way the government can assist public farming communities.

Meanwhile, the disgruntled farmers told The Namibian that they left their jobs in the hope of starting farming activities to make a living. They have also threatened to take the ministry and Agribusdev to the ombudsman.

Misika confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that the scheme is in dire need of a financial injection as it has no money to put the farmers into operation.

He said their budget has dwindled over the years, affecting the amount the ministry allocates to the Agro-marketing and Trade Agency (Amta) and Agribusdev.

"The Agribusdev budget for 2018/19 has not been secured in the sense that they previously got N$20 million from the ministry. From 2017/18, there were no dedicated funds to Agribusdev and Amta. This year, we allocated N$18 million, and we divided N$9 million for Amta and the remaining for Agribusdev. But that is not enough. Irrigation is a costly exercise", he explained.

Misika added that farmers are provided with production loans from Agribank through Agribusdev, which they must repay at the end of a harvesting season.

"Last year, however, most defaulted on their loans as their products could not be bought. Amta has no funds to buy, and the ministry has no money to give to Amta," he observed.

He said although the ministry, as well as Agribusdev, understand the farmers' dilemma, they do not have a choice as they have no money at all.

"The ministry does not have such funds at all. We are also failing to pay for our utility bills. I also had a meeting with them, and I explained the financial situation, and that they would be informed when to start once the funds are available. They missed the 2018/19 cropping season. It's unfortunate," Misika said.

Uugwanga said the farmers should understand that they do not deal with physical money, hence there should be no insinuation that money was released to Agribusdev.

The small-scale farmers are funded through a cooperative loan guarantee fund, and all farmers on the scheme have benefited from these funds.

"This is a revolving loan (such that) as farmers pay, the money would become available for use again. However, the scheme may suffer losses time and again due to non-repayments by farmers," Uugwanga said.

He added that the Mashare trainees could not be accommodated immediately since Agribusdev has to remodel the scheme to be more sustainable by allowing small-scale farmers to graduate after five years, and also to make it more compatible with the co-operative's rules.

"In that order, we are on the final round of consultations with the ministry. Once this is done, all shall be in order by February," he said.

He said they missed out on the harvesting period which ended on 15 January, and that they can plant other vegetables next month.

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