Namibia: Allow Grazing On Army Farms - PDM

Land Reform Minister Utoni Nujoma.

Popula Democratic Movement leader McHenry Venaani says the government must open up Namibian Defence Force farms to the public for livestock grazing.

He also called on the government to urgently provide drought relief assistance to communal farmers in the Erongo region, specifically in the Omaruru area.

During a media briefing in Windhoek yesterday, Venaani revealed that communal farmers in the Omaruru and Omatjete areas were in desperate need of animal feed.

He said communal farmers there had about 1 400 cattle roaming on farm corridors as pastures in that area had been exhausted, and farmers were struggling to feed their cattle.

The water situation in the area was also a matter of concern.

The Namibian earlier this year reported that the government had provided N$570 million for drought relief to help distressed farmers and communities.

The comprehensive drought intervention plan includes food assistance to communities affected by drought, and the provision of water tankers.

To benefit from the fodder support, farmers must have fewer than 26 large stock units (cattle) and fewer than 130 small stock units (goats and/or sheep).

Under the programme, qualifying farmers receive free fodder and licks.

The PDM leader said opening up army farms, namely Oropoko and farm Etiro, located between Karibib and Omaruru, would thus be one of the government's contributions to mitigating the drought situation in those areas.

The Namibian understands that farmers in that area have pleaded with the Office of the Prime Minister and the defence ministry to be allowed access into Oropoko and Etiro.

These requests, The Namibian was informed, were, however, rejected because the army farms were sensitive security areas.

"They must provide alternative grazing for those farmers, and one of the alternative grazing sites is the army base. If it is an emergency, all government resources, whether defence or not, should be made available. I know that no military base should be occupied by individuals because they are sensitive security matters, but they can put barbed wire around the military area," Venaani reasoned.

He said this was necessary because the government's response to drought was too slow, and that a lot of cattle in that area were dying. Venaani also alleged that there were cattle belonging to some top army generals grazing on the two farms.

He thus called on the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate all farms that belong to the government.

"I want to know who is farming on those farms? What revenue is generated on those farms? I want them to be opened to society in the broader interest of an emergency that this country is fighting," he stated.

Venaani's claims were substantiated by Erongo governor Cleopas Mutjavikua, who told The Namibian yesterday that he had seen cattle grazing in Etiro as he drove past the farm.

He, however, did not confirm whether the cattle belonged to army generals.

Mutjavikua said his office had also approached the Office of the Prime Minister this year to seek permission for communal farmers to graze their cattle on government farms, including those owned by the NDF.

"We were told that the Air Force cannot allow farmers to graze inside the farms. But for me, it is a contradiction because there are already cattle inside the farms. When you drive along the road, you can see there are cattle inside," he stressed.

Mutjavikua added: "Our attempt is to mitigate drought, and we are doing everything to help farmers. We want, at least at the end of this dry season, that farmers can still have some of their cattle which they can be able to farm with. And this is also a form of poverty eradication".

NDF acting spokesperson Petrus Shilumbu told The Namibian yesterday that the cattle seen grazing on defence farms do not belong to the army.

"No general has cattle on NDF farms. The cattle being referred to do not belong to the NDF. And if there are any, they are there illegally. Sometimes, animals stray into Etiro, but they are constantly driven back," he said, adding that the Air Force only had small stock at Etiro, and that there were no livestock at Oropoko.

Shilumbu emphasised that farmers cannot be allowed to graze on army farms because it was dangerous.

"Those are training areas. I know that the public is eager to get into those farms, but it's very dangerous to get into those farms," he said.

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