Aussenkehr Farmers Take On Government

THE 10 small-scale grape farmers in the Orange Irrigation Project (ORIP) embroiled in a land lease saga with government, have refused to move out, and instead demand compensation or contract renewals.

The affected farmers are Anneli Shithigona, Ester Kadhidhi, Risto Shikongo, David Shikongo, Kaimbi Haitembu, Apollonia Hausiku, Simon Olavi, Augustinus Haith, Erna Jossop and Josef Frederick.

In 2012, government ordered the farmers to vacate State-owned vineyard plots leased to them for refusing to sell their produce through Cool Fresh Namibia, a subsidiary of Dutch-based Cool Fresh International, which government had contracted in 2009 as service provider.

However, they returned in early 2013 to the plots after they won a court case in which they had challenged the eviction.

In the latest turn of events, the farmers were again served with notices dated 16 April to vacate the plots when their land lease agreements expired on 19 August.

Despite this, the farmers have vowed to stay put, and through Metcalfe Attorneys in a letter dated 1 June, of which The Namibian has seen a copy, demanded government either renew the leasehold for a period of five years for which rent is payable or to compensate them for the improvements they made to the plots.

The Agricultural Business Development Agency managing director, Petrus Uugwanga, yesterday said government attorneys were dealing with it as a ” legal matter”.

In a separate letter dated 1 July, the farmers wrote to the government, requesting it to refrain from “influencing and intimidating” prospective investors from assisting the farmers with spraying the vines, cleaning the plots, pruning and application of chemicals.

“Our clients similarly intend to harvest, market and sell their season’s produce themselves, hence they already obtained prospective investorsurchasers for their produce and expect better returns, if they sell their own produce,” the letter reads.

According to the farmers’ lawyers, government instructed Cool Fresh Namibia to access their plots to clean, prune and apply chemicals.

Uugwanga denied that government had instructed the service provider to render disease confinement services adding that he had “no knowledge” of the letter written to government by the farmer’s lawyers in which they instructed it to refrain from rendering disease confinement services to the affected farmers’ plots.

However, Uugwanga said government officials may have requested the service provider to render certain jobs on the plots leased to the affected farmers.

“Those trees (vineyards) are government assets. If there is a need to render services, we cannot not leave them unattended,” said Uugwanga.

Source : The Namibian