Query: Providing a clear perspective on the role of Agricultural Business Development (Agribusdev) in view of recent SMSes in the print media that question the role of Agribusdev, as some of the questions insinuate that Agribusdev does not care about Small-Scale [Irrigation] Farmers (SSIFs), and neglects them, etc.
Response: Agribusdev is a State company established in terms of Section 21 of the Company Act, Act No. 28 of 2004. The company started operating on 15 April 2013 and is spearheaded by the Board, which falls under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF).
1. Our mandate is to manage and supervise the Green Scheme Programme, in accordance with the Green Scheme Policy. At present, we have 11 green scheme projects, of which eight are under Agribusdev management and three are being leased out to private companies, hence on the leased projects we only perform a supervisory role. By and large, Agribusdev took over the management and supervisory function that MAWF used to perform with effect from 13 April 2013.
2. The green scheme makes provision for the inclusion of SSIFs on the Green Scheme Programme and at present, we have 146 SSIFs across the entire portfolio. As per the Green Scheme Policy, it is an obligation for Agribusdev or any service provider to render them services. The noted service shall be rendered at cost.
3. The tenure of SSIFs on the Green Scheme Programme is based on a five-year lease agreement. SSIFs are expected to gain appropriate skills during that period in order to be able to venture into crop farming on their own. Agribank funds the small-scale farmers’ production activities with a five-year revolving loan, which is guaranteed by GRN (Government) through MAWF. Non-repayment of loan or any funding advanced to the SSIFs constitutes a breach of contract. In a situation like that, and any other area of non-performance, Agribusdev being the supervising institution initiates remedial action.
4. Seeing that SSIFs were finding it difficult to acquire their own land and capital after five years, Agribusdev in consultation with MAWF came up with the programme of graduating SSIFs to medium-scale farming units, i.e. from units of between 3 to 11 hectares to units of 12 to 30 hectares. Whenever medium-scale farming units are developed, SSIFs are given the opportunity internally to apply. At present, seven SSIFs were approved for graduation by the Board on 3 August 2017.
5. In the same perspective, and as part of the GRN Social Transformation Agenda, as enshrined in NDP5, 20 small-scale farmers are completing one-year training at Mashare Training Institute and 11 at Tsumis College. They are expected to graduate end of August 2017 whereupon they will be eligible for placement on the Green Scheme Projects; more so, on new units, or units vacated by farmers who graduate and SSIFs evicted/to be evicted.
6. At present, there are a few individual farmers, who are breaching the Lease Agreement despite several requests for them to rectify the material breach. Those farmers have resorted to writing letters seeking sympathy with different authorities instead of rectifying their respective breaches, as stipulated in their contracts.
It must be underscored here that matters of dispute could only be sorted out within the framework of the signed Lease Agreement. The agreement provides mechanism for settling dispute that shall be followed.
Further to that, Section 9, sub-section 9.1 of the Green Scheme Implementation Manual provides further guidance: “However, report on sensitive issues (corruption, theft, grievances against Agribusdev Management) may be channelled to the Chairperson of Agribusdev Board or any other competent authority”.
It is, therefore, not procedural correct for the aggrieved SSIFs to resort to media communication and other means without exhausting internal structures as laid down by the company.
7. Agribusdev undertakes to continue to render services to SSIFs, as this is our obligation and part of the GRN’s deliberate empowerment agenda. We have no intention to terminate contracts at will, but equally, we shall never condone non-compliance with respect to the set rules.
It should also be equally clear that in case of eviction, these plots shall be allocated to equally deserving Namibians, more so, those who are keen to contribute to the National Agenda for Food Security.
We call upon all participants on the green scheme to re-commit to our collective resolution of filling Namibia’s food basket. We value and continue to value all participants in the Green Scheme Programme, be it small-scale farmers or commercial private entities; we share the same vision and mission of making Namibia food secure.
• Margaret Kalo, senior public relations officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, e-mail: Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org