Good News for Communal Farmers

Tjiparuro PRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba in his State of the Nation address said the Meat Corporation is busy drafting the Meatco Bill which is aimed at “securing greater participation of our communal farmers in the commercial marketing of cattle, and indeed a fairer representation in the meat industry.”

This indeed must come as great news for communal farmers who despite being an important cog in the meat supply chain have hitherto practically been beggars who cannot chose. So much so that the communal farmers cannot but wait with bated breath for what the Meatco Bill is going to be against what it should. Because this may not be the first time that this issue is on the agenda. One of the matters that the first ever economic conference of the Omaheke Region in 2009 looked at was the marketing of livestock in this region, better known as Cattle Country.

However, despite this accolade it is an open secret the region, and especially the mainstay of the region’s cattle rearing and husbandry, the communal areas, are still reeling from skewed, depressed and syndicated prices for their products, mainly cattle on the hoof.

And the said conference, which was supposed to have looked at this pressing problem, six years or so after is still not certain with what kind of a solution it has come up with? With this being the case there is no denying that the problem of livestock marketing in the region has remained a worsening concern.

The situation currently facing the Omaheke communal farmers, and one that is not akin to this region or isolated to it, is that they are and have never been in any position to determine the price of their main product. This is despite the lie of the law of demand and supply determining such prices.

On the contrary an exploitative cartel fronted by so-called auctioneering houses, buyers, and if you like some financial institutions, seem to be in an unholy alliance perpetuating ferociously their vicious grip on livestock marketing in the communal areas of Namibia, with single buyers presenting sellers with fait accompli fixed prices.

Time and again communal farmers have been crying about such cartels, and the need for the farmers to get organised, even to the point of withholding their animals from auctions or permits, as the case may be. But such talks seem to at best remain wishful thinking and pipedreams.

And so the miseries of these farmers seem to continue year in and year out in a vicious circle that seems to relegate farmers to the fringes of livestock marketing, while they are the biggest and most important suppliers of livestock to the meat industry of the country, including the export market.

To what extent this burning matter of livestock marketing in the communal areas is and has been receiving the necessary and requisite attention of all and sundry, excepting the continuing nagging of the communal farmers themselves, is a million dollar question. Neither does there seem to be any academics, let alone agricultural economists, who seem to have ventured with any analysis as to why communal farmers in the country continue to play second fiddle or even third in the livestock supply and marketing chain, while as the main suppliers they should be calling the shots in terms of fixing the prices for their products in the true sense of the law of supply and demand.

That is why the latest moves by especially the Omaheke Governor to find alternative markets, for especially communal farmers in the Omaheke Region, and countrywide eventually, via Angola, is more than laudable.

But the question remains to be seen is that while this may be a much-needed temporary reprieve would it structurally change livestock marketing in the communal areas in the country, without the existing cartels continuing to hold our communal farmers to ransom, adopting and adjusting to changing marketing scenarios, even hijacking and usurping any new idea that would uplift communal farmers, especially by way of improving the market for their animals.

It is in this context that one can appreciate the training that the DHR Management and Leadership Expert CC started with last week and shall be continuing in the foreseeable future countrywide.

One cannot but applaud the company for this bold move especially as it also involves emerging commercial as well as communal famers in introducing and training them in critical agricultural business spheres such as dairy farming and agronomy production.

But one cannot in the same vein help notice that an equally important aspect of such training seems to be missing or either hidden in the varied areas of training. I am referring to none other than the vexed question of livestock marketing in the communal areas.

Certainly this is one area in which the DHR could greatly help the farming community, especially communal farmers, if only in helping them getting organised to the level of realising their own potential as suppliers against the deliberate manoeuvres of buyers, supported by the invisible cartel of auctioneers, financial institutions, and unconsciously or consciously, also our agricultural policymakers, both private and public.

With reference to the private policymakers and interest groups one also calls to mind the recent emphasis by the President of the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU) for a single united union for all farmers in the country, communal and commercial, as opposed to the current situation of about three unions or so existing for commercial, emerging commercial and communal farmers.

It is encouraging to hear the NAU’s highest echelons seeing and being conscious of the need for such a change towards the uniform representation of the farming community in the country.

But is such a change realistically possible in the presence of the dichotomous existence of farming along the lines of commercial, emerging and communal before a concerted effort at a convergence of the three?

Can one actually perceive a point of breaking this entrenched cartel, which is conscious of its own parochial interests, the greater interest of farming in the country notwithstanding? But as they say the only permanent thing is change itself.

But for such change to occur a conscious and deliberate beginning must be made to especially break the cartel that is holding many communal farmers, and thus by extension the country’s farming industry to ransom.

Source : New Era