No market for small-scale farmers

29 March 2017 | Agriculture

Northern small-scale farmers are accusing the government of not taking them seriously.

They say the government encourages them to invest money in farming, but does not create markets for them or allow public institutions to buy their produce.

These are farmers who operate under the government's Green Scheme, private producers and livestock farmers under the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), all farming in the Northern Communal Areas (NCA).

They claim that there is no market for their produce because the local market is saturated with food from commercial farms or South African imports.

According to Paulus Amutenya, chairperson for Olushandja Farmers Association, a group of private small-scale farmers at the Olushandja Dam, they have the necessary land and manpower to produce food but because of a lack of marketing opportunities they produce only for the informal market.

The same concern was discussed during an NNFU Special National Council meeting at Ongwediva on May last year.

The two associations said local government institutions such as school hostels, hospitals, prisons and others do not support them by consuming local produce. Catering companies supplying these institutions buy their products from communal farmers south of the Red Line and in South Africa.

“When we started we used to get support from catering companies who used to buy their products. Business was very good and we were producing a variety of produce. In 2003 the catering tender was awarded to different companies who showed no interest in our products,” Amutenya said.

Amutenya said their association used to have 69 members who farmed on plots ranging between three and 20 hectares and employed hundreds of workers. Since 2003, however, 30 farmers have stopped farming while the rest cultivate small pieces of land, just enough for the informal market.

“Agriculture minister John Mutorwa is always coming to us applauding what we are doing. We tell him about our problems, but nothing is being done to address our plight,” he said.

“They have created the Agro-Marketing and Trading Agency (AMTA) to promote our produce, but AMTA also has no market and our produce ends up getting spoiled there.”

AMTA's marketing manager, Sackeus Enkono, agrees with the Olushandja farmers.

He says the agency's mandate is to promote local products by creating market access, but there is nothing they can do if local catering companies and retailers do not support them. “Local farmers supply us with their products and it is the duty of the catering companies and retailers to buy products from us, but they opt to get the same products produced locally from the south or South Africa. This is a limiting factor to our farmers who are producing the same quality products, but have no support,” Enkono said.

He said in order not to discourage the farmers AMTA takes up all their produce and tries to squeeze into the informal market where it ends up competing with the farmers and their street vendor customers.

Green Scheme farmers get financial and technical support from the government, but they are experiencing the same problem as the Olushandja farmers. Currently they are producing only tomatoes, onions, cabbages and butternuts to sell in the informal market.

NNFU farmers in the Zambezi, Kavango East and West, Ohangwena, Oshana, Oshikoto, Omusati and Kunene regions who met at Ongwediva last year said they needed meat processing facilities to promote local meat, but were frustrated by Meatco.

According to them Meatco was created by an Act of parliament but now operates as a company outside the provisions for state-owned enterprises.

They accuse the meat producer of favouring farmers south of the Veterinary Cordon Fence.

The farmers also claim that Meatco cares only about the export market and not about the domestic market.

ILENI NANDJATO

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