… Despite drought declared national disaster
By Kelvin Chiringa
President of the biggest commercial farmers’ union, the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) Roelie Venter has revealed that no commercial farmer under their umbrella has received monies out of the N$572 million drought fund, approved by Cabinet.
It is now three months after government made the announcement of the comprehensive drought relief intervention.
The revelation comes in the wake of government having already announced that the drought is now a national disaster while farmers have raised alarm that livestock was being hit the hardest due to lack of feed.
At the same time, government has sent out a begging bowl to the generality of citizens for voluntary contributions of 2% salary deductions.
Pressed on whether the government’s announcement of the funds was timely for the many farmers, Venter refused to comment.
Venter said the union has so far not carried out a study to determine how big an impact the drought has had on the commercial farmers with special focus on the number of livestock lost.
He lamented that prices are currently still under pressure at auctions and local abattoirs due to an oversupply.
“We are grateful for the stable slaughter prices paid by Meatco abattoir,” he said however.
Farmers are also looking up to a potential N$10 million donation which is being collected under the ongoing ‘Dare to Care’ campaign.
Venter said donations to the fund are currently standing on N$6 million while 108 000 bags of feed can already be subsidized to drought stricken farmers.
He said NAU has an ambitious target of N$10 million to subsidise 200,000 bags of feed.
“The whole agricultural sector, including the Namibia Emerging Commercial Farmers Union (NECFU), Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU), and the private sector in Namibia, decided to join hands under the ‘Dare to Care’ umbrella to make a contribution to all drought stricken farmers to survive the drought.
“These include communal, emerging commercial and commercial farmers across the country. An important principle of the assistance is not to donate feed to farmers, but make certain feeds more affordable through subsidization. A fixed subsidy of N$50/bag of animal feed is applicable to all approved animal feed products,” he said.
Surprisingly, Venter noted that the agriculture sector continues to create many jobs despite the ongoing drought spell as other sectors are dismissing workers.
During the Agricultural Employers Association Congress on 11 June 2019, a survey was done with regard to the scale of dismissals of farm workers amongst all Farmers Associations who attended the congress which comprised of representatives of all region of the commercial area, he said.
“A very interesting observation is that due to the explosion of charcoal production and the production of animal feed from intruder bush (which are both very labour intensive) the central and northern parts of the commercial area currently have more employees in service than 3-5 years ago.
In spite of the disaster conditions agriculture has created employment opportunities whilst many dismissals are done in the rest of the economy,” said Venter.
The drought amnesty factor
Several farmers that spoke to The Patriot this week indicated that they were not keen to embrace a drought amnesty meant to cut the arrears of owing farmers so they can have little pressure in light of the drought.
However, official communication from the bank is that more of its clients have come forward.
“The interest is commendable. We receive enquiries daily by phone, email and from walk-in customers.
On an on-going basis, there are customers who apply for partial payment relief.
Some customers have already started making payments towards the down-payments to qualify for the relief on both arrears and annual installments.
As announced when we launched the initiative, customers have until 30 September to finish off their down-payments.
Just a correction, what the bank is offering is partial payment relief on arrears and current year installments rather than an amnesty per se,” said Agribank’s manager of communications, Rino Muranda.
He said some clients have already made payments while others have come in to enquire so that they can fully understand how the relief scheme works before they go back to raise the money.
Muranda said historically, the bank’s major headache has been the low levels of loan repayments.
“We have seen an upward trajectory in collections over the past three years.
Of course we now have a severe drought that is affecting the whole country which means that recovery will be slower.
Within that environment we must manage. It is a tight balancing act but we are doing our best to manage,” he said. .
For those not keen to embrace the amnesty, Muranda said it is not being forced on anyone.
He said some customers will naturally choose to carry on with existing repayment arrangements.
“We welcome that. Others might prefer to make new repayment arrangements which might fit their circumstances better than the partial repayment relief. We are ready to have those discussions, too. There are also few customers who do not need the relief at all because they can still manage.
The options are wide open. What we would not advise is for a customer to simply stay away from payment.
We would encourage them to approach the bank even if they cannot raise the required payment thresholds. We remain ready to listen to individual cases and make a decision on how best to accommodate individual customers,” he said.