Service Provider ‘Not a Holy Cow’

THE Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, said Cool Fresh Namibia (CFN), which is running the State-owned Orange River Irrigation (ORIP) Project vineyards, is not a “holy cow”.

The company, a subsidiary of Dutch-based Cool Fresh International, also renders marketing and plantation to the ORIP small scale growers.

Mutorwa’s remarks followed complaints lodged to the President during his visit to Aussenkehr farms, which indicated that the small-scale farmers are getting peanuts for their products at the expense of the service provider who sells their produce.

When asked by Pohamba what the challenges they are facing were, the small-scale farmers hesitantly said a tripartite agreement between them, AgriBank and CFN binds them to market their products through CFN and is not beneficial to them. They expressed their discontent over the paltry earnings they receive for their produce.

Responding to the complaints, Mutorwa remarked: “Service providers are not holy cows. There is nothing preventing us to cancel their contracts if we found you’re being exploited. Service providers must cooperate on our terms”.

In support of the small-scale workers’ claims, Karas governor Bernadus Swaartbooi explained that the small scale grape growers are “actually working for the service provider”.

According to Swartbooi, the small-scale farmers virtually “get nothing back” when they sell their products through the service provider.

“They only make profit when they sell products directly to fruit companies,” said Swartbooi.

Swartbooi also noted that nothing has come of the initial agreement between government and the Orip small-scale farmers, which had stipulated the transfers of the vineyards plots to their names after the 10 years, to take ownership.

Mutorwa, however, claimed he was not aware of the agreement Swartbooi referred to.

“These are allegations. Maybe this will come in the court case,” said Mutorwa, making reference to the second legal challenge government has instituted to have 10 of the 20 ORIP small-scale farmers evicted from the government-owned vineyard plots.

In 2010, government obtained a High Court eviction order against the farmers after it had terminated a lease agreement with them, claiming they had breached several conditions of the agreement. The eviction order, however, was settled after the 10 farmers challenged government in court. The standoff between the ministry and the 10 farmers initially stemmed from the farmers’ refusal to sell their produce through a government-appointed service provider, Cool Fresh Namibia.

After listening to various complaints, Pohamba said the profit-sharing agreement government had signed with Cool Fresh Namibia could be reviewed, adding that parties can also reach an understanding if they simply discuss their differences.

Source : The Namibian