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Kavango farmers demand FMD-free zones

Farmers in the Kavango regions and the Namibia National Farmers Union demand the agriculture ministry create foot-and-mouth disease free zones north of the red line or remove the red line completely.

As the issue of veterinary cordon fence (VCF), known as the red line, intensifying, three letters seen by New Era from Kavango East and Kavango West Regional Farmers Union and one from Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) have all demanded the above mentioned.

The farmers have addressed letters to agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein.

“In our communication to the minister, we cited on behalf of our farmers that they are in full support of the creation of the new FMD-free zones. Farmers during the consultation overwhelmingly supported the creation of the new FMD-free zones as an option of mainstreaming the northern communal areas (NCAs) farmers in the national economy,” said Kavango East Regional Farmers Union (KERFU) secretary Thimoteus Kativa.

The first letter dated 9 February 2021 was a follow up on the feasibility study conducted by the agriculture ministry towards the end of 2020 through consultants.

Farmers indicated that they participated and provided inputs for the study.

“The study findings indicated that the new FMD-free zones are feasible and beneficial for farmers,” Kativa noted.

Farmers in their letter to Schlettwein blamed both the consultants and the ministry for not reverting to them to present a final report and hence regarded the actions as being dishonest and not transparent.

They have since requested the minister to provide feedback on their letter and organise a meeting for the ministry to indicate the way forward in terms of the plan to implement new FMD-free zones in the north.

Kativa, who spoke to New Era, said farmers expressed grief that the ministry has the tendency of conducting studies but abandon it immediately after completion without implementation.

“We are really very tired and agitated by the agriculture ministry’s conduct of neglecting the NCAs livestock market. Many studies and promises regarding the creation of FMD-free zones in the NCAs took place but no action in this regard, at the end, farmers are the ones suffering,” Kativa said.

The farmers further cautioned the minister in their letter that they will not accept the silent treatment endured all these years, where letters written to the minister were “deliberately ignored”.

“Unfortunately, we will not sit back this time if our request is ignored. It has been the precedent of promising but then keep quiet and do nothing,” they said.

In the first letter, farmers from both Kavango regions through their unions requested a response by 19 February 2021 but there was allegedly no response.

The recent two letters, one from Kavango East and Kavango West (26 July 2021) and one from NNFU (3 August 2021) were ignited by the letter from the Meat Board of Namibia (MBN) to Schlettwein suggesting that Meatco should not operate any abattoir in the northern regions apart from Katima Mulilo.

These letters from the two Kavango regions to Schlettwein labelled the MBN as an organisation that has been sabotaging the development of the livestock sector in the northern regions.

The farmers questioned why they should continue paying levies to MBN while the regulator had no interest in improving the livestock sector in the NCAs. The letters also referred the minister to their earlier request for the creation of FMD-free zones. They made it clear that creating a new FMD-free zone will not touch the existing red line. The red line will remain intact, as the new FMD-free zone will be on the northern side of the current red line. They, however, warned and demanded that the ministry must remove the red line if they are not willing to create new FMD-free zones north of the current red line.

In the summary of their request, farmers requested that the ministry must fund and facilitate the creation of FMD-free zones in the NCAs as per recommendations of the feasibility study as soon as possible. They said the ministry must share what is the plan in addressing new FMD-free zones or an alternative to facilitate the removal of the red line.

NNFU as the mother body of communal farmers in the whole of Namibia also questioned the letter from MBN, reasoning that it was instigating division and factionalism, which is contributing to the fragmentation of the livestock sector.

“All farmers should be presented with equal market opportunities. We also urge agricultural institutions to understand and focus on their mandates to avoid unnecessary politics and conflicts causing fragmentation and division within the livestock sector. We believe the honourable minister will play a pivotal role in curbing and avoiding politics in the livestock industry,” read the letter signed by the president of NNFU, Jason Emvula.

Emvula also requested the minister to speed up the process of market provision by way of tackling the red line issue and create FMD-free zones in the NCAs. In all these letters, farmers, and their mother body NNFU advocated for Meatco to provide markets both in the southern and northern parts of the country. They requested government to provide an enabling environment for Meatco to fulfil its role.

Efforts to get a comment from Schlettwein proved futile before going to print.

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