Hardap Farmers Count the Costs

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By Surihe Gaomas MARIENTAL Barely six years after Mariental farmers recovered from the floods that caused extensive damage to their crops and property in 2000, another flood has swept them to the ground. At the Hardap Scheme near Mariental, local farmers that New Era spoke to said that after the last two floods of 2000, they had again managed to build an industry that the region and country was proud of. But now, after this week’s floods, it might take them ten years to get back on their feet again, they say. Most of the maize, grapes and date plantations that once flourished here are now barren land. This is coupled with devastation of the irrigation pumps, water pipes, workers’ houses and other property. This week, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Paul Smit visited the farmers to ascertain the extent of the damage caused by the floods. “What can I plant here again? Zilch,” exclaimed Riaan de Klerk after viewing the unpleasant sight of his 14 000 hectare plot of date trees completely washed away. What is more is that the irrigation system valued at between N$20 000 and N$25 000 has also been destroyed by the flooding disaster. When he started the business four years ago, he erected it at a cost of N$2-million dollars and ever since, he has made commendable progress. De Klerk was honoured with the Farmer of the Year Award by the Namibia Agricultural Union last year. For De Klerk, this was his highest success. “Yes, those were the days I excelled, but now just look at this disaster. You only see water and mud. I’m disillusioned,” said the farmer, trying hard not to show his feelings. However, with a pat on his back, some of his fellow farmers consoled him saying that the soil was now good and wet for planting mielies instead. Just a few steps away from the fields at his garage, there are heaps of animal feed dampened by the water, while one of his Toyota bakkies got stuck in a huge trench that was created by the floodwaters. Away from this plot is another owned by Nico Visser under the registered name ‘Visser Boerdery’. A water pump is a wreck with all kinds of pipe structures jutting out. His N$400 000 infrastructure together with its irrigation facilities has collapsed much to the dismay of this local farmer. “The computer is still hanging there, but the pump that was there is gone and the filters are damaged,” said Visser looking rather distraught, burdened by other sad news of his entire 20 hectare onion field that was ready for harvesting having also perished. The Hardap Scheme, situated about 10 kilometers outside Mariental, has been the worst affected by the latest floods. Dawie de Klerk, Chairman of the Hardap Farmers Association, said that on the entire 2 200 hectares of farmland, most of the 30 farmers have felt the fury of the floodwaters. However, as much as everybody wants to point the finger of blame, others think that there is no need to look for scapegoats in a natural disaster. “The entire multi-million project has been affected and this not only affects the farmers, but the entire Hardap Region and the whole country as this is the country’s breadbasket,” said De Klerk, picking up a washed up watermelon and a dead fish in the mielie plantation. When all four sluice-gates were opened last weekend, the dam water that came down contained fish stocks as well, which some locals picked up and ate. Experiencing the real effect on the ground Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Smit said that the farmers “experienced a lot of damage, but fortunately it is not the whole scheme,” – he adding that the most extensive damage was to infrastructure. Two of the farmers who suffered damage mentioned losses of approximately N$8 – N$10 million each, while the lump sum collectively could run into over N$300 million, according to them. The only dairy farm in the town came to a complete standstill, as the cows could not be milked anymore. A dairy cow needs continuous milking and in this case once that procedure is interrupted the cow can only be milked after it delivers its next calf. A herd of 50 cattle that belongs to the dairy is now roaming around aimlessly on the floodplains. The Hardap Scheme is hopeful that after handing over their preliminary assessment of damages to President Hifikepunye Pohamba following his brief visit to the town yesterday, their plight would be addressed in some way or the other at the end of the day.