WINDHOEK – The Kalimbeza rice project in the Zambezi region – which was on the verge of collapse – has been thrown a N$7.1 million lifeline by the government to salvage its operations.
The bailout was made available through the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry in January.
The farm has not planted rice for the last two years due to, among other factors, disconnected electricity, non-payment of employee salaries, a lack of fuel, uneven fields and wrecked equipment.
Zambezi governor Lawrence Sampofu told Nampa that under-capitalisation was the main reason for the project’s struggles.
“So, it’s just a matter of putting more funds into the project to make it more productive,” Sampofu said.
The governor was, however, quick to note that his office only got to learn about Kalimbeza’s precarious financial state in November 2019 as the project does not report directly to him.
But his office, upon learning that the project was on the verge of a complete shutdown, immediately took up the matter with former agriculture minister, Alpheus !Naruseb.
Sampofu’s intervention appears to have pressured the agriculture ministry into releasing funds to the farm. Nampa recently visited the farm to assess the situation, and upon arriving at the project, Patrick Kompeli, the farm’s manager shared the project’s ordeals.
He echoed Sampofu’s sentiments, saying that inadequate funding has had detrimental effects on its potential to become a premier rice producer.
“If you don’t have the funds to buy the inputs, the fertilizers, pesticides [and] diesel, there is no way you will be able to produce rice,” he lamented.
The allocated funds will now be used to repair the farm’s fence, which is in a dilapidated state; weeding, facilitate the purchase of pesticides, pay the electricity bill throughout the year and to repair all the requisite equipment.
Like all other government green schemes, the project falls under the Agricultural Business Development Agency (Agribusdev).
According to Kompeli, the project has the capacity to break even and become a self-sustaining farm if adequately funded for the next five years.
Even with the N$7.1 million cash injection, he projected that the green scheme would only generate around N$500 000 in profits this year.
Asked if this was a healthy return on investment, he said the farm could have been self-sustaining by now, had it been funded adequately and consistently.
Responding to questions sent to the agriculture ministry on the sustainability of the government-run green scheme, its spokesperson, Margaret Kalo, said: “The project can be economically viable. This will be achieved if the current challenges faced by the project are addressed and additional capital for the development of additional land and for operations are made available.”
Kalo did not respond to questions related to the project’s return on investment to taxpayers who have been bankrolling it.
To date, the government has spent close to N$50 million on the project’s infrastructure development, information obtained from the ministry shows.
Since 2014, the farm has made N$1.8 million from rice sales.
“Yes it’s true, N$7.1 million was transferred to the Kalimbeza rice project account to address the challenges that have been pulling down the project such as field levelling, repair of the fence, repair of all the machinery on the farm and procurement of rice processing machines and inputs,” she said.
The situation at Kalimbeza is so dire that University of Namibia (Unam) vice-chancellor Kenneth Matengu and four senior Unam lecturers visited the farm recently to appraise themselves of the state of affairs there.
According to Matengu, their intervention was to establish what has gone wrong at the green scheme and see how the university – if requested – could intervene through research and development.
Recently in the National Assembly, former finance minister Calle Schlettwein said green schemes have not yielded the expected results, hence government will start prioritising the types of crops that Agribusdev will support.
“Food security is the overall objective of agriculture,” he said.
But the minister, now in charge of the agriculture ministry, took particular issue with the management of green schemes, the choices of crops and their financial sustainability and viability of certain crops that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.