Queen Sofia to Live and Farm God’s Way

THE Queen Sofia resettlement farm in the Outjo district was once the pride of the Namibian government’s resettlement programme.

In almost every speech about land reform, senior government officials would refer to the farming model at Queen Sofia but then it started collapsing and the past decade had been one of failure, mismanagement and crime that has led the farm to be cited as an example of a failed resettlement plan.

Hopes are now that within five years, the resettled families at Queen Sofia will be partners in dealing and using a special ‘senepol’ breed of cattle for their benefit and a turn around of fortunes at the farm.

A stakeholders’ day was held recently to introduce the idea, which stems from a joint initiative involving the Kunene for Christ Mission and the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement.

The project consists of five government farms with a total area of 21 000 hectares about 75km between Outjo and Otavi in the Kunene region.

In 1998, fifty families (which is said to amount to about 400 beneficiaries in total) were resettled with hopes that they would seize the opportunity to create livelihoods for themselves, which would eventually become commercially viable.

The farms were said to have been in good order when the families moved onto them, and even the Spanish government put in N$14 million worth of infrastructure that included houses, a school, farm equipment, and cattle and livestock.

In fact, the project is named after the Spanish Queen, the main sponsor of the resettlement project.

Outjo constituency councillor Abraham Job said the project started off well, with the community selling products to surrounding communities, but the income was not properly used, nor the facility and its infrastructure properly managed. Government support also dried up. Job also said the reason why the project deteriorated and became ‘bad news’ was because it lacked “visionary leadership”. By 2003, the project had lost its flair, while poaching and stock-theft spilled from the settlement to neighbouring farms. The infrastructure such as roads, fences and water supply lines deteriorated.

The community’s spokesperson, Ndapandula Nelumbu, said the project became synonymous with problems, and that livestock had lost value due to inbreeding.

It changed in 2008, when Kunene for Christ started helping the people to see the farm’s value and possible benefits.

“We realised the need for experts to help the community to understand farm management and how to make such a project sustainable,” said Job, who was key in introducing Kunene for Christ’s initiative to the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement.

He said it was not easy though to introduce the initiative because of fears that Kunene for Christ’s motive was to take over the land.

“I explained that it was the other way around. They now understand that the initiative is to help them develop the land for their own benefit,” Job said.

Last year, Kunene for Christ and the lands ministry signed a memorandum of understanding to start a “turnaround plan” called the ‘Sprout Plan’, which goes by the principle of “living and farming God’s way”.

The road was fixed and the fences were restored. Water supply infrastructure was also repaired for the first time since 2003. There was, however, still lack of vision and an inability by the beneficiaries to properly run a project of this kind and magnitude.

TURNAROUND PLAN

The plan identifies increased agricultural production and food security to transform the project into a fully-fledged commercial and sustainable business enterprise.

As for the core herd using the Senepol breed, Chris van Rooyen, project coordinator for Kunene for Christ, who is also a Senepol-breed specialist, said the breed was identified because of its good quality meat. Although it is not well-known in Namibia, it has enormous potential.

“We need to start something different to create a demand for the breed. The ultimate goal is to contribute towards improving its economic viability by becoming active shareholders in the project,” said van Rooyen.

There are about 1 040 cattle (not Senepol) at the farm, of which about 400 allegedly did not belong to the beneficiaries but to outside farmers, The Namibian learned.

To get a core herd, the project would have to start with at least 30 cows, which will be artificially inseminated by a “superior bull”, which will likely come from South Africa initially. Van Rooyen estimated that it could take up to four years to establish a sustainable herd.

“The benefits are enormous. The project creates hope with the establishment of a successful and sustainable breeding herd. Success breeds success, and so there is hope for a unique marketing potential through best livestock rearing practices that will also serve as a valuable training and demonstration platform,” explained Van Rooyen.

He said that for the dream to be realised, considerable input is required and support from both government and private institutions, hence the stakeholders’ meeting.

Wolfie von Wiellich, one of those involved with mentorship, and who also has experience with resettlement farms in Namibia, said there are established and experienced farmers who want to help communities on resettlement farms, but then it would mean cooperation from the beneficiaries “otherwise things just fall flat”.

“We want to change the view people have of resettlement farms like Queen Sofia. Let people come here if they look for top standard Senepol cattle,” he encouraged.

HOPEFUL END

Queen Sofia resident Job Nghisidero, who has been living there since 2002, told The Namibian that the community has been living off the few cattle they have and doing vegetable gardening.

“We don’t like to suffer. We want to make a living,” he said, adding that fires that destroy grazing and “people from other places” who come to the farm and use it as a base to steal and poach cattle and game, were a big problem.

He said this also gives the farm and its residents a bad name.

“Now with this new plan, we can get out of the trouble and make something for ourselves and for those around us. I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to being part of the plan,” Nghisidero said.

Councillor Job said the Queen Sofia residents were ready to turn the resettlement farm’s image around and to learn from the experts.

“We need to practise introspection to see how we will use the blessings God gave to this country. In the past people were not motivated but now there is a new mission and a new vision and I am proud to be part of this project,” he said.

Source : The Namibian