The deplorable state in which Ongombo West, a farm situated 30km northeast of Windhoek, finds itself in is another stark reminder that it is not all rosy when it comes to the country’s resettlement programme.
Much has been said about this piece of land, which was the first farm to be expropriated with fair compensation in Namibia following a dispute between the farm owners and workers. This process gave resettled families access to 4 000 hectares of land but of which the majority is today lying idle.
In its heyday, the farm exported flowers to the lucrative European market. The farm exported 150 000 flowers to Germany, Holland and South Africa annually.
Ongombo West produced between 130 000 and 150 000 Arum Lilies (Zantedeschia flowers) worth an estimated US$500 000. But now sadly, the farm has basically been reduced to a white elephant, with no production taking place, while the resettled families have resorted to the illegal sale of alcohol to generate income for survival.
It is sad that as much as government is committed to accelerate land redistribution in an effort to redress historic racial inequalities, many of those resettled on large tracts of land are not using the units productively and help feed the nation.
The expropriation of Ongombo West may have been justified on the grounds that the authorities were redressing imbalances of the colonial era. However, it is upsetting when those given such golden opportunities fluff their chances and resort to beg for handouts.
In its current form, Ongombo West is incapable of feeding its own people.
This begs the question whether government is really resettling people with the real passion to work the land or merely to occupy it?
Surely, there are many farms countrywide that find themselves in such mess. In fact, many have been sub-leased as the original resettled owners cannot afford farming.
Indeed, we are aware of a potpourri of challenges that black farmers face. Among the many challenges facing resettled farmers is the lack of adequate capital to go into full production and access available markets.
The lack of capital is a result of many factors such as resettled farmers not being able to use the allocated piece of farmland as collateral when seeking production loans from commercial banks – as commercial banks feel that since the land belongs to the State, it cannot be repossessed in the event of default on repayments by the farmers. This is a situation that has left resettled farmers in a catch-22 scenario, as denying them commercial credit/loans continues to undermine their ability to become productive farmers.
Not only that, but poor and old farm infrastructure on land bought for resettlement, lack of skills and access to markets for farm products count among those challenges.
Also, another challenge facing resettled farmers is the countless restrictions and unnecessary bureaucracy when trying to expand their farming activities beyond the traditional means of production.
For instance, when resettled farmers want to venture into game farming or charcoal production, they are first required to obtain government permission to embark upon such ventures, and approval from the ministry many a time takes forever to come and by the time approval comes, the farmer would have lost out on lucrative markets and opportunities.
Another problem is the lack of a clear and practical post-resettlement support programme, which many farmers disparately need upon being resettled.
A clear and practical post-resettlement support programme is therefore needed to help train and equip farmers on how to properly maintain farm infrastructure, how to properly apply appropriate breeding and selection practices/methods and on maintenance of livestock health.
At the end of the day, we cannot afford to have productive farmland lying idle in this country.