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Etunda irrigation sinks…small-scale farmers struggle to make ends meet

2022-10-04  Aletta Shikololo

Etunda irrigation sinks…small-scale farmers struggle to make ends meet

ETUNDA – Etunda irrigation project, which was in the past considered a beacon of hope for youth employment and food security in the country, is currently at its lowest without any produce over the past 12 months.

The land of Etunda irrigation scheme in the Omusati region is divided into two sections, catering for small-scale famers who are now claiming to be barely surviving, while the rest of the scheme belongs to the government.

The land demarcated for government’s agricultural activities lays idle and officials have been lodging at the scheme’s government houses while collecting salaries since October last year. 

There has been no production on the State’s portion of land since last year.

Frustrated smallholders allude that venturing into the scheme left them cash-strapped and indebted, as they struggle to make ends meet. The farmers claim they have no market for their harvests. 

Spokesperson for the agriculture ministry Musheko Jona said his ministry is aware of the fact that the green scheme “is not in production this season”.  “But we are making budgetary arrangements to see if we can have production during the next cropping season (starting end of November). Regarding the small-scale farmers, we are also aware of their situations which are unique,” he said. 





In March this year, agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein announced at the Dubai World Expo government’s intention to lease Namibia’s green schemes through request for proposals (RFP) to local and foreign investors by June and July this year. 

The schemes used to be under the wings of the Agricultural Business Development (Agribusdev) agency, but the government decided to liquidate the agency.

They are now under the ambit of the agriculture ministry.


Aina Imalwa, a young small-scale farmer, who grows vegetables on the farm, said she has been struggling to make a profit from her production due to high input and a slow market.

With the sharp surge in global fuel prices due to the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Imalwa complained that they can not cope with increases in water and electricity bills, pesticides and fertiliser.

According to the farmers, a bag of fertiliser that used to cost N$300 is currently over N$1 000 at Agra in Grootfontein.

These challenges are further aggravated by a lack of consumers.

With a lack of market, their produce sometimes gets rotten and they, therefore, do not make a profit.

“It has become quite difficult for us to make ends meet. I rarely make a profit. The little I earn is what I invest back into production. Pesticides are extremely expensive and by the end of the month we are still expected to pay the water and electricity bills and also pay people that work for us,” said Imalwa.

Imalwa is one of the few farmers who, despite the struggles, still operates.

The project is divided into 90 plots of three hectares each.

However, only 30 out of 68 farmers allocated plots are utilising the land while the rest of the tracts are vacant.

Another farmer, who asked for anonymity, said he has not worked on his land for two years because he could not maintain production levels.

His family has been living on the farm for the past two decades thus he is hesitant to relocate despite his unproductivity.

He said he was unable to continue farming because he was unable to pay the loan voucher he was given by Agribank.

“The farm management has stopped servicing my land and offering me other necessary farm services to continue with the production and I don’t have the means to pay back the loan,” he said.

In an interview with New Era, acting farm manager Sacky Shilyomunhu said financing, marketing, and infrastructure hurdles create massive gaps between supply and demand.

“It is true some farmers have vacated the land as they can no longer keep up with the production, while the majority are still residing on the farm despite unproductivity. The input cost has gone up that some farmers cannot afford to buy products such as fertiliser, which has led to low productivity,” he said.

According to him, 30 farmers who are currently operational are those who are up to date with their credit.

“Only 30 farmers are in good books with the project and these are farmers that we offer our services. They also produce quality products. While some cannot produce because they are owing the bank and we cannot offer them our service and that includes ploughing, spraying and so forth,” he explained.

Furthermore, Shilyomunhu said farmers who mostly make a good profit, are those with vehicles as they can transport the goods to various markets. 

“Those without vehicles struggle because their products end up getting rotten because they cannot afford to rent vehicles. The tariffs on water and electricity went up and, on average, each farmer’s contribution to the bill is roughly N$5 000, which is way too expensive for them. Last week Nored threatened to cut off power and each farmer was required to contribute at least N$3 000,” he further explained.

According to him, the farm has been turned into a residential area for those who cannot produce.

“Many stopped working on the land but there are still accommodated on the farm because some have nowhere to go as they have lived on the farm since its establishment in 1992.”

Initially, farmers were only allowed to be on the farm for a maximum of 15 years.

“That was the idea, so we train more young people to be self-sufficient, but those who have been here for long have turned the government houses into their permanent residence,” he said.

Shilyomunhu is also calling on the cooperation between the government and farmers to find amicable solutions to revive the sinking project.

“This project is the backbone of this area. We provide food for people and animals. Most of the people here survive on the products that we are producing. We need to go back to the drawing board and fund these projects,” said Shilyomnhu.



2022-10-04  Aletta Shikololo

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