Not Ideal Bedfellows

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Kae on Friday Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro The Omaheke Regional Farmers Union (ORFU) deserves a big pat on the back. Indeed, the entire communal farming family in the region are worthy of commendations for spurring on its regional body. Against what appears to be sheer arrogance by the Consortium, having the audacity to withdraw its sponsorship at the eleventh hour, the farmers and their body went ahead relying on own resources to stage the region’s agricultural show. Not only that, but the event also turned out to be in a class of its own perhaps to the dismay and exasperation of would-be sponsors. In fact, two weeks ago I took issue with the fact that a region as big as Omaheke, priding itself in being a cattle country, is unable to stand on its own and has to depend on handouts from a gang of companies. The eleventh hour sponsorship withdrawal by the Consortium speaks volumes of the master-servant relationship between the communal farmers and the companies in the Consortium, fronted by fellow black brothers/sisters who seem to be mere tokens with the previously advantaged cast still calling the shots. After all they are the ones still paying the piper. It is difficult to see this matter otherwise. Apparently the Consortium had to withdraw its sponsorship because one of their bigwigs was unable to attend the event on apparently a short notice. What short notice? The Consortium, I am sure, must have been aware of this event well in advance. The event was initially scheduled for 18-24 September in Okakarara/Okamatapati/Okondjatu as an inter-regional fair between the communal areas of Epukiro and Otjozondjupa. In this regard the date must have been communicated in good time to the Consortium. Thus if the Consortium is truthful about its desire to have attended it or the subsequent regional one in the Aminuis Constituency as it came to be, the short notice could not have been an issue. It must come forward with a more plausible explanation. The Consortium owes it to the farmers if it really believes they are its equal partners and not mere hangers-on who can be disposed of at its simplest whim or held at ransom. I am sure farmers as a collective are a bigger entity than our single Master Big Consortium. Did the Consortium pause, even it was for only a second, to consider the troubles the farmers endeared for months and would have endeared further had the show not taken place? No, it seems this is and was not important for the Consortium. What matters to them is how they can exploit the event for own gain. That’s what for them it has been all about all the time. The pretence at partnership has only been a big lie, it seems. It appears ultimately that what counts is the interest of the Consortium and its constituent elements. That of the farmers, it seems, is only good after his Master’s. The Omaheke farmers, I am sure, have now paved the way for others to follow suit and to emulate their act of autonomy. There should be no going back to the “old pots” of the Consortium. They must now start planning for the next edition of their self-sponsored and self-run event next year by putting away resources. Otjozondjupa, I gather, is also planning to compensate the efforts of the farmers with a self-supported and self-driven show unhindered by short-change from the Consortium and not under the auspices of one or the other farmers association to take place in Okamatapati this weekend. One can only wish them well in this endeavour. All of a sudden we hear that the regional body is staging another show soon despite having decided that there will be no show under its auspices this year. Something somewhere is not right, making me start to have second thoughts about the withdrawal of the Consortium and that it may have been self-inflicted as much as the sponsorship withdrawal in inexcusable. The independent and self-reliant drive by farmers may on the face of it seem only an act of desperation by the farmers jilted by their all-powerful moneyed lover, the Consortium. However, it is a meaningful act of freedom than the farmers would realise, heralding an era when farmers can stand on their own and be free from the shackles of so-called associations and consortiums that at the end of the day keep them chained in a vicious dependency web. Through their own efforts farmers must have seen the light at the end of the tunnel not to ever look back to the sham partnership with the Consortium. If the Consortium really values this partnership for what it ought to be, a partnership between equals, it not only owes farmers an apology but also needs to do some soul-searching as to how it needs to envelop and develop this partnership in the future. Communal farmers are an integral part of the meat industry in this country. How can they be insignificant players if they are inherent to the two million cattle industry marketing 400 000 or 100 000 tonnes of meat, 80 per cent of which is exported to Europe? Market information indicates that meat consumption in developing countries is set to grow by 43 per cent by the year 2020. Namibia and the communal farmers, now finding themselves outcasts to their private sector fellow travellers, can expand their share of the market in this boom. Thus cutting them out is spiting one’s nose. As I have indicated in an earlier article there are just too many farmers’ associations and marketing entities in the marketing of livestock in the communal areas to make economic sense albeit in this age of mixed economy and competition. It’s high time for the communal farmers and their myriad and minuscule associations falling over one another to get a share of the limited cake, and to close ranks if they are to become a meaningful and powerful force in an increasingly competitive globalised market. Not only this but communal and commercial farmers also seem to be worlds apart to the comfort of livestock buyers. The sooner they realise that they are destined together, if only by virtue of being at the same sharp edge of livestock marketing, the better. True, for historical reasons the two may in many respects not be the ideal bedfellows but the depression in market prices impacts devastatingly on both. As the industry faces the effects that may be induced by the Government’s value-adding initiative of reduced on-the-hoof export of animals, various producers big and small need to stand together to cushion off the likely effects. It may have been intended well but so are many other things.