Windhoek-A marketing morass. This is how the prevailing persistent situation of livestock marketing in most communal areas of the country can aptly and shortly be described.
This situation comes a long way from the days of colonialism. Since, there has been little to zero improvement. Most of the time such areas are left to the unscrupulous market forces. These are just nothing more than a syndicate of white monopolistic buyers, determining the prices and rather than letting market forces doing this. At the sharp end of this are communal producers (farmers), a euphemism this day for previously disadvantaged communal farmers in crowded communal land, which are increasingly becoming agricultural backwaters, if not cattle herding backwaters.
Even in this era when cattle marketing lately has markedly improved with prices reaching a high of about N$40 a kilogramme in urban centres, such remains to most communal areas a distant dream with the best they can expect being a high of N$24 per kilogramme. At the centre of this extremely exploitative marketing system is a syndicate of buyers, mostly, if not all white, that like the historical partitioning of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884, have partitioned communal areas among themselves, buying cattle through a system of permits with only one buyer with a pre-determined price at any particular permit in any communal area at a specific time. This is as opposed to auctions when there could be more than one buyer, bidding for the cattle on offer, thus pushing up the asking price.
Because of the current marketing system, communal producers have literally been hostages to their own production, with their power as producers yet to be realised and tapped. Not that producers are without any blemish in their own continued exploitation. And their farmers’ associations as much, which seem to have been doing little or nothing in the face of the continued exploitation of their members.
Muua Katjizeu from the Okakarara Farmers Association (OFA), speaking to the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)’s Omurari FM last Friday, points out one factor impacting negatively on livestock prices in the communal areas, especially in the Okakarara Constituency, foremost the lack of cooperation among the various farmers’ associations and cooperatives vying for the piece of the cake as far as the marketing and selling of livestock is concerned. Divisions and competition among these associations and cooperatives compound the already complex and cumbersome livestock marketing industry, which Katjizeu admits cannot be for the weak and fainthearted. This is in contrast to buyers, predominantly if not only whites, who are well organised. The major obstacles according to Katjizeu are that there are only two buyers for Okakarara, who know their game, a game which has been to the detriment of producers (farmers). Attracting more buyers to the area has been impossible. For this one needs to have a certain number of cattle which most of the time has been negated against by the farmers themselves preferring to sell their cattle in towns where they can get better prices.
If buyers have cattle available in towns there has been and can be little incentive for them to buy cattle in the rural areas, with the attendant disincentive of the troubles of transporting the cattle from the rural areas, and depreciation of their trucks given the conditions of the roads in most rural areas. “Thus the two buyers who are there have divided the area among themselves. The farmers themselves are in two groups, the associations and cooperatives. To make matters worse when able to draw the yearly calendar we could mix selling between the two groups but when the veterinarian started to draw it, associations have a month within which they sell and the cooperatives another,” relates Katjizeu.
On this basis each of the two buyers buy from either the associations any given month with the other only buying from the cooperatives the following month. Meaning there is and has been no competition between the two buyers with farmers at the mercy of only two buyers who determine the prices at will without any competition. Meaning farmers are most of the time presented with a you-sell-or-go situation. Most of the time the farmers, cattle selling being their only source of income, are left with few if any choice but selling at the given price which by no means is determined by the so-called market forces, which in this regard are non-existent. And this situation pertaining to Okakarara, seems akin to most communal areas where prices are depressed and do not come nearer to those in town.
This is a situation that is very much within the powers and ability of the farmers to change, but change seems to have been illusive, mainly due to lack of unity among the farmers. But there are some exceptions to the rule with Otjinene reportedly one of the areas where auctions take place with more than just a single or two buyers at a time, and thus competition and better prices.