By Desie Heita
Agra is the least liked entity among communal farmers, especially those in the eastern part of the country. This is a fact that Agra itself has come to realise and is now at pains to re-direct its image among the farmers.
It all started with a new approach of doing things that, says Agra, is in the best interest of both farmers and itself. Farmers on the other hand, saw it otherwise and responded by telling Agra off and appointing a new auctioneer to handle auctions.
Thus began a seesaw of events, exchange of letters, meetings and more meetings between Agra and farmers. Agra went as far as writing letters to, and meeting with, the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) explaining that they never intended to stop holding auctions for the farmers but wanted it done in a more orderly way.
NNFU called a press conference afterwards and “expressed its concern” over the manner in which Agra treats communal farmers in Omaheke, by withdrawing from holding auctions for the farmers there. At the briefing, NNFU President, Pinthile Davids, told reporters that the actions by Agra are “uncalled for” and “demand[ed] a speedy return of auctions”.
The news prompted senior managers at Agra to issue a full-page advertisement the next day repudiating the statements made by NNFU.
“I was surprised by the statements and comments in the news, which was done after we had just explained to them Agra’s position,” said the Senior Manager for Livestock at Agra, Pieter Hugo. The two parties are due to meet again this week in an effort to find common ground.
Hugo said Agra had never said it would stop having auctions for communal farmers in Omaheke. Rather it asked the farmers to consider having bigger auctions instead of smaller actions all over the eastern communal areas.
“Arranging auctions for animals less than 200 is a logistical nightmare, very expensive, and not many buyers would want to attend as they are not convinced of finding quality animals at such as small auction,” said Hugo.
Agra also asked the farmers to consider new ways of payments instead of handling larger amounts of cash, which puts both farmers and Agra at greater risk of theft and robbery.
However, Oloff Munjanu, NNFU Executive Director, says some of those reasons “do not hold water”. Munjanu also questions the fear of risk of carrying hard cash, asking why the community would want to sabotage their own income through theft.
Agra keeps insisting that all they ever wanted was to introduce straightforward changes, with no other ulterior motives. “We are for auctions, the more money we sell the animals for the more commission we make. Why would we want to have sales of animals on permit? Why would we want to sell animals at the lowest price, that would not make any sense,” said Ellis Mbuende, the Livestock Officer for Eastern Communal and Commercial Area.
Mbuende is one of the only two Agra’s officers in the region.
Agra has also been accused of making use of agents who buy animals at lower prices from communal farmers to sell them at higher prices elsewhere.
“We do not make use of agents. Private buyers who attend our auctions also buy animals straight from farmers, but they do it in their own private capacity not for Agra. They are not employed by Agra nor do they have any business arrangement with Agra. Nevertheless, perhaps when farmers see the same individuals at our auctions they mistake them for being Agra agents. The truth is these individuals are our biggest clients, buyers who we always invite to buy at our auctions,” said Hugo.
“This whole thing has done a lot of harm to the image of Agra,” said Birgit Hoffmann, the Senior Manager at Agra. This is true, as farmers have painted the institution an exclusive club of white commercial farmers.
It is now her job to correct that. As to how she intends to do that, Hoffmann points at a lot of goodwill that Agra has done and continues to do, for communal farmers.
“We have invested in several auction sites in the communal areas, we were the first to start auctions in the communal areas north of the cordon fence.
When we started, there was no money in it for Agra. But no other auctioneer had an interest, hence Agra joined hands with the Meat Board and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and went in there,” said Hoffmann.
She cited advice that Agra gives to emerging farmers on what animals to buy and other agricultural tips. Hoffmann went on to mention a list of the good Agra is doing for the farmers, as a commitment to help farmers.
Right now, however, to the communal farmers in Omaheke, Agra is anything but helpful and committed to their cause.