The Ministry of Land Reform is concerned that some people who got farms through the government’s resettlement programme are too old to make a productive impact and were simply looking for retirement villages by applying for resettlement farms.
“Not that old people cannot play a significant role in the economy of our country, but the truth is that some people are looking for retirement villages and prestige, which is not the intention of the programme. Resettlement is there to contribute to employment creation and economic GDP augmentation,” spokesperson of the Ministry of Land Reform Chrispin Matongela told New Era.
In essence, he said, the productive age should be factored into the programme to fast-track growth and reduce unemployment and poverty, noting that the agriculture sector is essential for poverty reduction. The ministry is also troubled that many resettlement farms that cost millions of dollars to acquire remain unproductive and do not create jobs.
At least 5 215 (families) beneficiaries have been resettled since Independence, during which period the Ministry of Land Reform has managed to acquire 500 farms, measuring over 3 million hectares and worth over N$1 billion. This amount of money is for acquisition of farms only, Matongela noted.
Further, he said there is a dependency syndrome, whereby people do not want to invest in their own farming enterprise. Even with smaller items such as bolts, they want government to assist, he said.
One such example is Ongombo West, especially on the section allocated to the former farm employees, who did so well as farmworkers, but have apparently failed to prosper as farmowners – albeit co-owners – after the owner who used to produce flowers for export to Europe was literally booted off the farm.
When New Era visited these former workers recently the scene was that of a settlement of destitute families. Many were sitting idle and asked for government handouts, instead of farming on the fertile soil under their feet.
“Seriously, government is not realising its investment, which can be rated very low compared to the millions spent in acquiring these farms,” Matongela remarked.
He also said in his view the 99-year lease period is too long and suggested the ministry should look at other short-term options, such as 10 or 20-year leases. “And if a farmer shows progress, then such an individual can be given an option to buy. The current arrangements make beneficiaries to relax,” he stated.
On the succession plan for beneficiaries, he said beneficiaries should be encouraged to start at an early age to identify their successors, as this always creates disputes when the beneficiary dies and siblings start fighting for the property.
Another issue of concern he raised is dual grazing, saying resettlement farms are treated as cattle posts, while traditional villages are still maintained by those who benefited from the programme.
“The principle is that, once you are resettled you should relinquish your crop field and grazing rights in the communal area. The objective is to reduce grazing pressure in our communal areas,” he advised. In order to diversify farming and tackle drought, he suggested farmers should start farming with lucerne to supplement their farming business. Moreover, he observed that in some cases beneficiaries upon allocation do not occupy their farming unit as is legally required, adding that this results in vandalism to government properties.
“The carrying capacity is not observed on some farming units and this makes some farming units to be overgrazed,” he added. Additionally, he said there is a way to quantify the grazing situation by doing physical assessment on all farms.
He said a comprehensive study needs to be undertaken to qualify this, because government needs to assess all four programmes of the ministry, for instance those who became mainstream farmers, or through development of water infrastructure, fencing, development of communal areas and construction of regional offices.
He maintained that all Namibians qualify to be resettled, on condition they were previously marginalised by past discriminatory laws. In order to empower resettlement farmers, he said the ministry has embarked upon the rehabilitation and development of water infrastructure.
According to him, the ministry has recruited water experts to address this challenge and at least N$27 million was spent on the rehabilitation of existing boreholes on resettlement farms by April.
In terms of fencing infrastructure, at least N$98 million was spent to develop boundary fences and on the rehabilitation of dilapidated fences between resettlement units.
In terms of post-settlement support for resettled farmers, he said at least N$10 million was disbursed to resettlement beneficiaries. “This money is availed to resettlement beneficiaries, as long as they possess an allotment letter or lease agreement in order to improve their implements and increase their livestock,” he indicated, saying the ministry also provides mentorship programmes aimed at improving the capacity of resettlement beneficiaries. The initiative is administered by Agribank under the Farmers Support Project.