U-turn on mahangu

25 January 2019 | Agriculture

In a dramatic move, the agriculture ministry this week invited farmers with surplus mahangu to report to their nearest silos so that the government can purchase their grain.

This follows an investigation by Namibian Sun that laid bare why the Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA) could not purchase the surplus from small-scale farmers last year. Namibian Sun uncovered that the agriculture ministry had apparently used the funds meant to buy mahangu from small-scale farmers to procure tractors for its dryland crop production programme.

The ministry procured 50 tractors to the value of N$21.7 million.

This is despite the ministry already having 132 tractors for the project.

A source told Namibian Sun that the ministry diverted the money last year, despite the fact that the country is experiencing drought.

The aim of the dryland project is to increase food production and enhance household food security, thereby reducing the vulnerability of households to poverty. It aims to assist farmers to produce enough food for their families and also enables them to sell their surplus grain.





Although private buyers show an interest in buying maize, AMTA is the only formal market for small-scale northern mahangu producers.

Since the beginning of June last year, many mahangu producers in the north have flocked to AMTA to sell their surplus, but they were turned away because the trading agency did not have funds to buy their grain.

On Wednesday the agriculture ministry executive director Percy Misika announced that AMTA will procure the surplus mahangu.

He said the white maize and mahangu procurement programme normally runs from May to October every year.

However, according to ministry's Crop Prospects and Food Security Situation Report for July 2018, the production of white maize was estimated at 59 000 metric tonnes (MT) of which 55 656 MT was marketed.

In the case of mahangu, the total production was estimated at 83 500 MT of which about 3 600 MT was registered for formal marketing and to date only 1 361.59 MT had been marketed. This leaves a balance of 2 200 MT of mahangu unmarketed.

β€œIn order to assist surplus mahangu producers to market their grain, the ministry through AMTA and the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) decided to implement the following measures with immediate effect: AMTA will procure the available surplus mahangu grain, while the NAB will close the borders for the importation of mahangu until all the available surplus mahangu is marketed,” Misika said.

He said AMTA will notify all traders and importers of mahangu into Namibia that the country's borders will be closed for the importation of mahangu until further notice.

Neither the ministry nor AMTA said where the money would come from to purchase the mahangu.

Questions sent to the ministry regarding the diversion of the N$21 million last year were not answered. The ministry instead chose to release a statement that did not deal with Namibian Sun's enquiries.

The ministry had been explicitly asked whether the money used to procure the 50 tractors had been diverted from the mahangu procurement scheme.

It had also been asked why it opted to buy tractors and not the mahangu from the producers and what the farmers were supposed to do.

Award-winning mahangu farmer Samuel Nepunda was among those left in the doldrums after being told that the government would not be buying his mahangu.

Nepunda, who had an initial surplus of 1 800 bags, confirmed on Monday that AMTA had bought 100 bags from him.



Hardship

AMTA's failure to purchase last year's surplus crop has led to widespread frustration and hardship for farmers who had become used to the agency buying their surplus over the years.

AMTA bought 240 tonnes of mahangu in 2011, 742 tonnes in 2011, 504 tonnes in 2012, 175 tonnes in 2013, 486 tonnes in 2014, 61 tonnes in 2015 and 1 500 tonnes in 2017.

The 50 tractors purchased with the diverted funds were bought through Windhoeker Maschinenfabrik and a climate resilience project in vulnerable regions, known as CRAVE.

In June last year, agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb handed over the tractors to ten benefitting regions.

!Naruseb told the regions during the handing over ceremony that the dryland crop production project is a government subsidy scheme approved via a cabinet decision.

The programme is implemented in the crop-growing regions of Kavango East, Kavango West, Zambezi, Kunene (north), Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, Ohangwena, Otjozondjupa and Omaheke.

It was reported that the dryland project renders subsidised ploughing, ripping and planting services to 40 000 farming households, through servicing a total 15 000 hectares annually.

The agriculture ministry has established silos at Tsandi, Okongo, Omuthiya, Rundu and Katima Mulilo to store mahangu and maize.

These silos are managed by AMTA and every year since 2010 the ministry has allocated money to the agency to buy grain.

Farmers supplying mahangu to AMTA used to be paid N$5 400 per tonne or N$5.40 per kilogram of mahangu.





ILENI NANDJATO

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