Northern Co-operative Alleges Unfair Competition in Seed Marketing Due to Unfair Competition

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By William Mbangula OSHAKATI The Northern Namibia Farmers Seed Growers Cooperative (NNFSG) faces an uphill battle with the selling and marketing of its products due to a lack of protective policy on seeds production and distribution in Namibia. NNFSG is the only government-approved cooperative with a mandate for multiple production, processing and grading of millet, sorghum and beans seed in Kavango, Omusati, Oshana, Ohangwena and Oshikoto regions. NNFSG General Manager, Stephen Iimbili, told New Era in an interview recently that the cooperative finds it very hard to sell and market the seeds mainly due to unfair competition posed by traders selling uncertified seeds as well as imported ones. With the rainy season which started recently, the cooperative was expecting the farmers to flock to its production and selling points at various places in the regions, but this has not been the case. For this reason, the Omahenene-based NNFSG has more than 200 tons of surplus seeds which still needs to be distributed to the farmers. Iimbili noted that the government has given them a responsibility to produce the seeds, but it is not protecting them. Instead, he said, it has allowed for the cooperative to be exposed to unfair competition by unfair competitors both locally and externally. Apart from unfair competition, Iimbili said some farmers have become unreliable when it comes to selling the seeds because they are no longer bringing money back and are overcharging the buyers. Until 2004, the cooperative had more than N$500ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 still outstanding with the communal farmers. As such, most of them were taken to debt collectors and this could have negatively affected the image of the cooperative which found itself between a rock and a hard place while trying to sell and market the seeds. Some of the farmers who were compelled to pay back through legal means could have influenced others to shun the seeds. The cooperative, on one hand, could not stand by while its money remained unpaid. Following the legal action taken against defaulters, the cooperative has now introduced new measures to curb unfortunate incidents of non-payment. It has been decided that those who want to get seeds on credit will first have to pay 50% of the total amount with the surplus seeds to be returned by March 31 of each year. The cooperative will also look for new marketing points, since the old ones have now been spoiled by defaulters. Seeds are sold at Omahenene for N$15 per 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ kg, but farmers normally sell them at exorbitant prices claiming that this compensates them for their transport costs. Such high prices have discouraged many farmers not to purchase certified seeds. NNFSG’s purchase price of N$3.50 per kg for seed from communal farmers is much higher compared to N$1.80 offered by Namib Mills to Mahangu growers, said Iimbili. At the moment, there are 147 farmers in all five regions providing seeds to the cooperative, and more applications are being received but the cooperative could not take more until the surplus seeds in the seven silos at Omahenene are cleared. Iimbili explained that all the seeds produced at Omahenene, namely: the pearl millet or Omahangu (Okashana No.2 and Kangara type), Sorghum (Macia) and Cowpeas (Nakare and Sindimba beans), are drought-resistant which can be harvested within a period of four months. Regarding the absence of the Seed Act, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Kahijoro Kahuure, said this is one of the problems being addressed not only in Namibia but also the SADC region since all the countries in the sub-region need to have similar roles and procedures on seed production and distribution. The seed protection policy was a subject of discussion during a SADC meeting he attended recently in South Africa, and the consultation about this is ongoing, he revealed. Kahuure noted that if the absence of the Seed Act is one of the problems inhibiting the NNFSG from doing its work properly, there is still some mechanism dating back to the colonial era that can be used by the Ministry to assist the cooperative. His Ministry is currently working on the draft legislation that will establish the Seed Council of Namibia which is expected to be operational by next year.