Govt ‘sabotages’ Orange River farmersBy: LUQMAN CLOETE
THE Orange River Irrigation project (Orip) farmers have decried Government's continuous moves to “sabotage” their hopes of becoming independent grape growers.
In 2001 the farmers entered into a three-year training agreement with Government and were trained by NDC to set up grape vineyards on 700-hectare State-owned land at Aussenkehr.
Following the completion of their training, plans were that each farmer would be allocated a 99-year lease agreement as part of the Government’s lease agreement to produce grapes.
However, this did not materialise and farmers instead signed a five-year lease agreement in 2009.
In the same year Government brought in CoolFresh Namibia as a service provider after the farmers ran up N$2,5 million debt with AgriBank due to alleged mismanagement by a previous service provider, Grape Smart.
CoolFresh then also signed a financing agreement with the small-scale farmers paying them an advance allowance of N$4 000 a month.
Allegedly CoolFresh Namibia unilaterally ended the contract in May 2010, leaving the farmers with no option but to sell their products directly to a Netherlands-based buyer.
In September 2010 the Ministry of Agriculture wanted the farmers to sign a tripartite agreement with Agribank and CoolFresh, threatening them with eviction after they refused to sign it.
The workers stood their ground not to sign the agreement, claiming they want to cut out the middleman to gain maximum profits.
The farmers are now claiming that the Government’s Green Scheme Agro Production Manager, Petrus Uugwanga, has blocked funding from a Netherlands-based buyer to farmers to pay about 100 casual workers hired for pruning of their vines in July.
A small-scale farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, alleged Uugwanga phoned the buyer and told him that he would lose his investment because the small-scale farmers were to be evicted soon.
“We have evidence to prove this,” the farmer added.
In addition, Uugwanga allegedly also told the buyer that Government would pay the casual workers.
Uugwanga denied the allegations, saying he had never acted outside the parameters of the Green Scheme policy.
“I don’t know of the person you are talking about. I also want to know who is he who knows me. The Green Scheme policy clearly outlines that we should not deal with anyone other than a designated service provider,” he added.
The Netherlands-based buyer LA Droogendijk of D-Quality Survey BV confirmed that he had received a phone call from Namibia warning him not to deal with the small-scale farmers as they were facing eviction.
“The person hanged up the phone without revealing his name when I started to ask a lot of questions,” Droogendijk added.
Meanwhile, the small-scale farmers are reluctant to sign a management agreement relegating them to a position of caretaker on their own vineyards.
The latter agreement was part of proposed eviction reprieve to the small-scale farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture. Its objective was to enable CoolFresh and Agribank to recover outstanding debts owed to them by the farmers from production on the plot through optimal utilisation.