As if the persistent droughts the country has experienced over the last few years were not enough burden on farmers, especially those in communal areas, another menace is gearing to fall hard on the farmers like the biblical Sword of Damocles.
And ironically this is being engineered internally by none other than those who are supposed to be good friends and partners of the very farmers, the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), the umbrella farmers union that is supposed to be the guardian angel of the farmers and their brother/sister’s keeper and champion of their interests.
And Meatco, one of the vital chains in the red meat processing industry in the country, must protect the very farmers, including communal ones, who have been and are its vital suppliers and thus in a way a vital source of its existence.
In this regard one would have assumed that a symbiotic relation exists between the communal farmers, the NNFU and Meatco, for the latter two to be jealously guarding and protecting the interests of farmers, which inversely and reversely are also their interests.
But what has been emerging through the grapevine lately, gives a different perception that the NNFU and Meatco are the actual nemesis of the farmers, and thus the meat industry. Since the end of last year communal farmers across the country, especially in the regions of Otjozondjupa and Omaheke, which are the country’s read meat processing mainstays, have been feeling a reprieve and relief from years of suppressed market prices. It is for the first time in many years that communal farmers have come nearer to a high price of close to N$40 per kilogramme for their big livestock. But as if sooner or later this haven may disappear in thin air, with the so-called market forces at their usual mercilessness, and thus short-lived, the NNFU and Meatco, the grapevine has it, have been locked in discussions to cut this lifeline of the farmers of late. The two would-be partners are said to be discussing lobbying the government to slap a ban on the export of weaners to neighbouring South Africa. The farmers disbelief of these rumours is understandable, especially when both the NNFU and Meatco are said to be ringleaders of this initiative.
As much as these remain but only rumours, at this stage at least, with nothing confirmed by either the NNFU or Meatco, for the desperate farmers, still reeling from devastating droughts of recent, such cannot be dismissed at face value. Not when their trusted partners are now suspected to be partners in crime against them.
The concern of the farmers over these rumours is not only understandable but justified. In view of the fact that as close as they may be and must have been to both the NNFU and Meatco, the rumoured discussions cannot do much for the already eroded confidence, especially in the NNFU, by some communal farmers. It is hard to believe that indeed the NNFU and Meatco may be conniving against their important, if not most important, stakeholders in the meat industry. Because that would be cutting the nose to spite the face. But the fact that the farmers at this stage remain in the dark about the rumoured discussions on a matter of such great interest to them, and the country at large – can they really be blamed for feeling a measure of exasperation, if not uncertainty, regarding the future of the market, with those implicated being their very partners of long?
Since the NNFU’s congress last year with a new leadership, Omaheke and Otjozondjuoa have been feeling left out because they do not have representatives from their regions on the new leadership. Thus NNFU’s relationship with these regions has at best been on tenterhooks.
Earlier this month there was an agricultural and farming stakeholders meeting at Okakarara, which the Otjozondjupa Communal Farmers Union (OCFU) boycotted. Just because of the presence of the NNFU. Albeit farmers from the two regions (or NNFU’s affiliates), several bread and butter issues were tabled. But the NNFU has as yet to create a platform for discussion and possible amicable resolution.
Also this month, farmers from Omaheke and Otjozondjupa had a meeting at Sandveld where, among others, their being in the NNFU, in particular their unrepresentativeness by the NNFU, came under the microscope. Also this week a stakeholders’ meeting, similar to the one in Okakarara, was scheduled for the Omaheke Region but has been postponed indefinitely.
Thus the NNFU is best advised to create the necessary platform where these famers can share their reservations and problems with it. Vice versa, the farmers must continue to see the NNFU as their mother body and use it to help them face whatever challenges they may be facing. Unity is of the essence. Understandably the NNFU has already forwarded a communique to its affiliates in this regard. One can only hope that these farmers and their union find each other. Provided all stakeholders give this matter their urgent, undivided and devoted attention and necessary urgent push, one cannot imagine how the farmers can meet the trying times ahead with another drought by all indications looming. A separatist farmers’ union cannot be the answer.