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Opinion - The plight of maize farmers in Zambezi

2021-12-03  Prof Makala Lilemba

Opinion - The plight of maize farmers in Zambezi
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The Silozi Service of Radio RSA (Republic of South Africa) in the 1980s ran a programme called, “Caprivi Sizuma saLico, “literally meaning “Caprivi, the Breadbasket.” The Silozi Service of Radio RSA was mainly created to serve as propaganda machinery for the then Caprivi and Western Province of Zambia and other Silozi speakers in the neighbouring countries. 

Parallel to this was a move taken by Swapo after merging with CANU in exile to specifically position the Caprivi as “Bread Basket” immediately after independence. However, this scheme did not materialize as expected, as later on Etunda Agricultural Scheme in Omusati, and the two Green Schemes in Eastern and Western Kavango regions were launched. However, the farmers in the Zambezi region did not give up, but limped on amidst many challenges, the major one being financial. For the farming season of November 2020 to March 2021, the maize farmers again managed another bumper harvest. Despite their toil in cultivating, and the monetary expenses incurred, many farmers have failed to sell their maize. There could be many reasons pertaining to this impediment, but maybe the following could suffice.


Lack of credible farmers’ union in the region

The farmers’ organisation called Likwama in its current form seems not to be effective to amalgamate all farmers in the region to enable them to petition the government to assist them. Without any farmers’ organisation to lean upon, the farmers find themselves at a loss in finding ways and means to have their maize sold. This stalemate has led to some of the bags of maize attracting maize eating pests, leading to this maize being disqualified on the market.


The role of AMTA

 The role of AMTA is to enhance the capacity of Farmer Based Organisations (FBO) to produce in accordance with market demand and with international standards. Another role is to stabilise food prices in the domestic market, promote the development of the private sector and manage food security at national level. With the farmers without a strong operational local farmers’ organisation, it has become very difficult to assist the farmers. Nevertheless, it seems it is not the lack of cooperation between AMTA and Likwama that is hindering the buying of maize, but everything hinges on financial provision by the former partner. Farmers who shipped their bags of maize had to wait for many months to get their money. 


The intervention of authorities

It will be an understatement to believe that the authorities are not aware of the predicament maize farmers in the Zambezi find themselves in. At one point the regional councillor for Sibbinda constituency, Hon. Lukaezi once presented this burning issue in their meetings in Katima Mulilo. It seems the results and response to such discussion have not borne many visible fruits. Still, there is no way in which the central government cannot know about this pressing issue. Government should tap the biblical wisdom of the Pharaoh of Egypt who appointed Joseph to oversee the storage of grains during the time of plenty to survive the lean years. Namibia depends on foreign aid for drought relief in terms of maize, and this is an excellent opportunity for government to buy maize from the farmers and use it when there is no food in the country. Besides, it is a fact that many Namibians are malnourished because they cannot afford just three meals a day. No enlightened Namibian will believe the Government song of not having money when hordes of money are embezzled, lost in foreign banks and even disappear in ceilings, and Fishrot scandals. The money earned after their sweat assists them in sending their children to school. It is quite ironic that the exposed hundreds of bags of maize stored in the AMTA warehouse are just adjacent to the empty silos. 


The millers in the region

The three millers in the region, AgriMills, Kamunu and Namib Mills. could not buy all the maize including the one which crosses the Zambezi River during the night. This also denies the chance for the local farmers to sell their products as the market becomes saturated by the maize from across the river. This is an old problem and the security agents know about it and have become a syndicate in which some of them might be taking part provided their hands are greased.


It is raining time

The current situation of the farmers in the region is scary and indeed desperate as there are thunders and lighting announcing the coming of the rain season. The maize bags’ storage facilities are not up to standard and some of the maize has gone bad, a condition in which some of it may not reach the market. If not, the price of such maize may be reduced, putting the farmer at a disadvantage after working hard for that. 

The government’s call all along has been food sufficiency and food security, but it has failed dismally to abide by its word by failing to help local farmers. It should be mentioned that most of these farmers do not get subsidies from government. If agriculture is well taken care of, Namibia with its small population should be able to feed herself and lessen the food dependence syndrome on South Africa. This can be done with the political will of the leaders, but the maize farmers in the Zambezi need urgent assistance from government.

2021-12-03  Prof Makala Lilemba

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