Who Calls the Shots

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

IT may be true that many factors determine the price of livestock. However, the oddity is that as far as the supply of livestock is concerned, suppliers, especially rural ones, seem the least instrumental if not ineffective in this regard. Currently, these suppliers are at most only a shadow of the all-important self they are supposed to be in view of their vital link as suppliers.

Unlike in many markets where suppliers seem to be calling the shots, rightly or wrongly, suppliers of livestock in Namibia, as vital a link as they are, seem to matter little in terms of determining the price of their products, let alone being important players in the livestock supply market. If one has to compare our livestock suppliers with other suppliers, and I am tempted somehow to be outlandish and immediately think of the apparent importance suppliers of crude oil and their important cartel, the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC). If their public posturing at significance is anything to go by, one cannot but be envious of their position and pitiful of the almost prostituting existence of our communal livestock suppliers.

It is not difficult to see why our livestock suppliers are in this precarious and vulnerable situation. Suppliers, not that they are without blame albeit excusable, seem to easily take the bite that they have so much in common with other players to their own detriment. At the risk of exaggerating the commonality, one cannot equally downplay the lie of common interest.

Because there is a denominator at play here that is uncommon and inherently discriminatory. As much as the players in the industry would want us to believe in the virtue of colour blindness in the industry, there is no denying the fact that the suppliers hail from a disadvantaged cast. It is long before they become equal suppliers or entrepreneurs among equals.

Not that their so-called smart partners are doing anything to ensure that they assume their rightful place under the sun of livestock supply. Tacitly, but to the disadvantage of the supplier or would-be supplier, the assumed smart partners seem to have found some sort of comfort zone, the one that seems to inculcate the supplier with a false sense of partnership while what he/she in essence occupies is just a comfort zone. Unknown to him/her, imaginary but to her/his fellow a reality, another exploitative vantage position. This is a partnership that prevails for as long as our supplier(s) is/are not prepared to see beyond this apparent partnership and for what it is worth. This smartness, if one can really term it smartness, largely determines the extent to which our blinded suppliers can reap full benefits of an equal player(s). The economy of which the livestock supply side is an integral part, is by and large still predominantly the domain of our formerly advantaged and still advantaged and honoured entrepreneur. The shrine of the experienced-businessperson-cum-former-architects of separate development, our modern day overnight entrepreneurial visionary. Hence it’s not difficult to understand why livestock supplier(s) while an important part of the livestock marketing scenario, play second fiddle if retrogressive and suicidal role in this all important sector of the economy. Of course, why should the other players bother at all to unshackle our aspiring supplier beyond the comfort zone if in the end this proves destabilising to the taken-for-granted smart partnership? That speaks volumes of the much-trumpeted stakeholding.

While I am sure the captains of the economy would make us believe that they are in the same ship as livestock suppliers and when it sinks all do, or most would, certainly the immediate and telling impact is felt differently and utmost by the black suppliers. In fact, what has been transpiring on the ground is that somehow there seems to be two opposing interests. At the one end the buyers and at the end of this continuum the consumers, including the elite consumers of our meat products in our export outlets. This group seems to be closer than it would admit or meets the eye. Then of course at the sharper end of this seeming innocuous marketing system there is our communal supplier(s), our communal consumers and what-have-you. They are the Sinbad(s) of our marketing system toiling away in seeming invincible isolation that belies the fact that for most they are on their own against the whole wide world of meat producers/suppliers/sellers and consumers.

The flip side of the seeming equation to which we are all equal stakeholders is represented proper by the cohesive Livestock Auctioneers, Brokers and Traders Association (LABTA). The suppliers on the contrary seem satisfied with loose and ad hoc entities with its utmost credible public face the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU).

Seated comfortably on the lap of LABTA is none other than some of the auctioneers to whom the interest of the livestock suppliers is only a transient and temporary necessary pastime, good only for public galleries with the real show going on only behind closed doors and after hours when the actual interests connive against the very livestock supplier. Without taking much from the NNFU in terms of advancing the interests of communal farmers, it suffices that the NNFU must soon seriously realise what an important lobby it can become in terms of seriously advancing the interests of the communal farming community. Currently its approach seems flippant and rudimentary to be a real force or to be taken seriously by its daylight-only smart partners.

Typical of most of the initiatives by the previously disadvantaged, either its mission has run its full cause before its full potential has been realised, by design or by some default. However, it is not late for the NNFU and many of its affiliates to realise how they may have been taken for a ride by their assumed smart partners. This does not only go for the NNFU but also to the black intelligentsia. While we have many of our homebrew African economists boasting about their academic achievements, the recent and ongoing Seminole struggle by our communal farmers tells little of the wealth and power, let alone influence our economic great minds within our midst and against the continuing exploitation of the backbone of our economic existence as the previously disadvantaged, livestock-rearing.

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