WINDHOEK - After farming for 25 years and having reached retirement age, one of Namibia’s most prominent black farmer, 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 after having addressed another communal farmers’ information day at Okakarara.
Sitting down with New Era for an exclusive interview, Tjihero, who is also the chief organiser of the annual Okamatapati Agricultural Show, 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. Auctions have been cleverly located to exactly the same towns every week, which makes it virtually impossible for the communal farmer to transport his/her animals over vast distances. The procurement of their animals – communal farmers deliver about 70 percent of all weaners to SA– can only happen in a fair way if the big feedlots from South Africa positions representatives in communal areas and assist struggling farmers. I have instructed the Namibia National Farmers Union to formally request the agricultural minister to allow such representation of SA feedlots in communal areas,” he notes.
He says there are just way too many middlemen involved in the value chain and the communal farmer does not benefit from this stretched chain.
“Direct involvement should result in more money in the pockets of those who need it most: the communal farmer,” stresses the man who started out as a communal farmer and built up the well-respected Okorusengo Brahman Stud.
Tjihero says, adding to the woes of communal farmers, are climate change, dry spells and drought since 2013.
“The children of communal farmers witness the daily struggle of their parents to maintain infrastructure on their land to provide for food and school fees and they are aware of their parents’ financial struggles to pay off loans and market their animals. This is very discouraging and on top of that, they witness drought and climate change and live through the helplessness of not being able to do anything. In most cases they just want to get off the farm and run to the city lights,” he observes.
He says financial institutions that grant loans to aspiring black 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.
These institutions should also do follow-up visits to these farms and do evaluations of the property.
“I bought my farm 25 years ago with an Agribank loan and I have never been paid a visit by any of the institution’s representatives. This is simply wrong and no young black farmer who wants to earn 100 percent of his income from farming should be treated like that while he is paying off those loans,” he notes.
Tjihero says with the current price structure of farms, it is impossible for an aspiring black 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 startup to livestock farming.
“If such aspiring black farmers do not own a lucrative business or have 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,” he laments.
He says the current drought will cause most communal farmers to lose up to 60 percent of their animals due to blocked communication and marketing channels.
“The Otjizondjupa and Omaheke regions form the backbone of Namiban livestock farming but ironically enough, these are also the regions where communal farmers suffer the most. Big auction houses and an imbalanced procurement scheme are killing communal farmers. They do not have the infrastructure needed, they don’t have the transportation means and they certainly don’t have the money to compete and survive. I don’t see a future for communal and emerging black farmers.”
He notes that recent studies have pointed out that communal farmers sell cattle as emergency sales. This is so because cattle sales emerge from economic circumstances that compel owners to sell in order to obtain sufficient money to purchase pressing commodities.
One of the biggest challenges to livestock farmers in the communal areas is lack of capacity building in binding to the buyers’ quality criteria and understanding of the marketing system in general. Animal health issues are barriers to trade in livestock and their products, whilst specific diseases decrease production and increase morbidity and mortality.
A recent study concluded that communal farmers sell livestock for household needs and school fees.
Other production challenges include inadequate grazing, lack of parasite and disease control, poor extension services and inadequate dipping facilities.
“Something drastically must be done to ensure the future of black farmers. More than 70 percent of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but the sector only contributed approximately 3.7 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” he concludes.
New Era Reporter
2019-04-09 09:40:40 12 days ago