WINDHOEK – Competent and seasoned Namibian farmers do not foresee increased participation by Namibian youth in agricultural activities. On the contrary, they live in fear of the future of agriculture in the country, a Farmers Forum survey has revealed.
Prominent farmers aired their voices during the survey after deputy agricultural minister Anna Shiweda recently said the low key participation of young Namibians in agriculture threatens the future of the sector.
They all agree with Shiweda that the sector – on which some 72 percent of Namibians rely – is in grave danger due to the lack of new blood, but they say the government has to do a lot more to ensure opportunities and activities which will bolster the interest of the youth.
While they appreciate this effort, livestock farmers say the writing is on the wall for their children and grandchildren with hardly any opportunities or government-inspired activities.
Having farmed for 26 years and reaching retirement age, one of Namibia’s most prominent black farmers, community leader and torchbearer for communal farmers, Albert Tjihero, says he is disillusioned about the future of black farmers.
“I do not see a future for any young black person who wants to make a living out of farming in our country,” he laments.
Tjihero says the odds are stacked just too high against any young black aspiring farmer.
“The entire system – from acquiring a loan from Agribank or elsewhere to procurement, marketing and auctions – has been designed to leave the communal farmer out in the cold. It is just impossible to buy a farm and pay off the debt under the terms of an Agribank loan,” he notes.
He says there are just way too many middlemen involved in the value chain and the young farmer does not benefit from this stretched chain.
Prominent white farmers like Piet Coetzee, Andries de Jager and Ernst Groenewald say – unlike the popular notion that white farmers have pots full of money – that it is impossible to motivate the youth to become farmers. “Livestock farming is the goose that lays the golden egg in Namibia,” says farmer Johannes Kriel. He has been involved in developing farms in other parts of Africa and says in countries such as Zambia farmers are well-looked after with practical plans in action to secure the future of the sector. They all agree that if a sibling can’t inherit a farm, there is just no way he or she can get the capital for a start-up loan, let alone buy livestock.
Stud breeder of Van Rooy sheep, Tjivi Tjombo says Shiweda should have spelled out an achievable plan by the government on how to address the situation in the short, medium and long term. “But we all know there is no such plan,” he remarks.
He adds: “Talk is cheap. Outsiders don’t see the incredible tough physical work of the farmer, the long hours, no weekends off, low prices for the farmer’s products, interference from the government like with the flopped sheep export scheme and the most uncertain profession in Namibia: farming.”
Coetzee says in Namibia it is a case of government asking farmers what they can do for the country, and not what the government can do for the farmers in order to do something for the country.
Tjihero, the owner of the well-respected Okorusengo Brahman Stud, says adding to the woes of livestock farmers are climate change, dry spells and drought since 2013. “In most cases in Namibia, the youth just want to get off the farm of their parents and run to the city lights.”
Farmers agree that financial institutions that grant loans to aspiring young farmers should change the terms so that these payments can be stretched over a period of 50 years and allow breathing space for up to the third generation to do the payback.
They note that with the current price structure of farms it is impossible for any aspiring farmer to acquire a deposit of some N$3 million, take out a massive loan to pay off the outstanding amount and still have money to buy at least 300 animals as a start-up to livestock farming.
If such aspiring farmers do not own a lucrative business or have a very wealthy family, he or she is doomed. And if they can make the start-up, they will live in debt till the day they die, the farmers lamented.