By Staff Reporter WINDHOEK Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Dr Nickey Iyambo last week visited the Etunda Irrigation Scheme situated in the Ruacana area. The government originally started the Etunda scheme as an agricultural project in 1992 but recently converted it to become part of government’s green scheme concept – Namibia’s blueprint to attain food self-sufficiency. Before becoming part of the green scheme, the project was plagued by debt, leading to some small-scale farmers not being able to meet their contractual obligations to suppliers. The ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) intervened by establishing a credit system in collaboration with Agribank to allow the bank to extend production loans to farmers. The ministry sponsors small-scale farmers to cultivate plots of three hectares each and then sell their produce in places such as Oshakati and Ongwediva and even along the highways. In a media release, the ministry said the purpose of Minister Iyambo’s visit was to strengthen the relationship between the service provider, farmers and the ministry. Media liaison officer at the MAWF, Mbatjavi Kahuure, said Iyambo told farmers they should strive to produce products of high quality. He however indicated that the ministry would leave decisions on inputs such as fertilizers to the discretion of individual farmers, allowing them to look for the lowest prices on the market. The Etunda scheme is based on a model where commercial farmers – known as service providers – lease land from the government and then provide support services and mentorship to adjacent small-scale farmers. The commercial farmers are responsible for ensuring that the farm itself and the equipment, which all belong to the government, are kept in good order. Service providers also assist the small-scale farmers with ploughing services, and in some cases with short-term credit. The ministry urged farmers to follow the business and irrigation management plans prescribed by the service provider, as this would guarantee eventual success. Kahuure said the ministry would allow the free market to operate, allowing farmers to buy inputs such as seeds and fertilizers from other suppliers of their choice. She explained that farmers could then send invoices to Agribank after signing for services and inputs. Agribank would pay on condition that farmers follow the business and irrigation management plans. If they however fail to follow the plans, she said, farmers could forfeit payment and they would not be able to honour their agreements with Agribank. According to Kahuure, farmers that have outstanding loans from Agribank can arrange to pay back the loans in manageable installments. Farmers will however have to show a degree of commitment to manage their plots profitably to qualify for such assistance. In the past, farmers have requested the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to assist them with guidance on how to farm successfully. Minister Iyambo responded positively to this request, saying that nothing is more valuable than knowledge and education. The ministry wants to encourage farmers to attend vocational training as this will give them the necessary tools for business management, marketing and basic accounting principles. Agribank has put measures in place such as the proposed business and irrigation management plan to assist farmers to produce quality products in order to make a success of crop farming. The ministry through its extension office has provided experts in the field to assist the farmers where necessary. The statement said while touring the Etunda scheme, Iyambo was impressed with the results achieved by some of the farmers that followed the ministry’s advice. They were now reaping the fruits of their labour, with some farmers able to extend their plots while others have bought vehicles with the proceeds of their farming. Minister Iyambo pointed out that though there are successes at Etunda, there are also areas that need improvement before the scheme can become one of the breadbaskets of Namibia. The ministry urged farmers to make use of the training opportunities offered to them in order to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge for successful farming.