AMTA's difficult task of feeding Namibia

June 9, 2015, 3:03pm

 

AMTA's difficult task of feeding Namibia

Prime Focus Cover: Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency Namibia (AMTA)

Following the shortcomings of the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB), in the regulation of the agricultural market, as well as the trading of the country’s agricultural produce to ensure the highest quality products get to the consumers and conversely ensuring that the farmers responsible for the production of these products are adequately compensated, The Namibian government, through its Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Culture, established the Agro-Trading and Marketing Agency (AMTA), which has taken these duties, and many others, in its stride. The agency’s Managing Director (MD), Lungameni Lucas, discussed the institution’s growth with Prime Focus Magazine this month.

 

  1. What is AMTA’s mandate?

 

We have a broader mandate and as I said earlier, when government has developed the infrastructure, which are the Fresh Produce hubs and other infrastructure that the government has developed or built. The aim of this infrastructure is to create a market for our local produce. That’s the aim of government when they put up these things. We are not the ones who are doing business; we have given this to the private sector to do business in these facilities, meaning that; we appoint agents and they are the ones who are trading on those markets. We are only facilitating the trading and making sure that it is fair from the side of the producers to the consumers.

 

The other aspect that we are also responsible for is the national food reserves.  We are responsible for the country this means that we are responsible for the sourcing of it, the storing of it and obviously the distribution of it. That’s very critical to food security in terms of staple food like maize, Omahangu and, in the future, we are also looking at rice, beans and so on. We are also looking at working closely with the Prime Minister’s office just to see how we can coordinate the food security issue in the country especially now that we are facing a drought, so we are also working very close with them on that one.

 

  1. Could you outline some of AMTA’s key achievements both in terms of ensuring food security and marketing Namibia’s Agricultural produce since its inception?

 

In marketing, as you know we have facilities that we are managing- The Rundu Fresh Produce Hub and another one in Ongwediva- and after we have put up everything, we are serving all the farmers in all the regions. These farmers bring their fresh produce to these hubs. What we have achieved with that is as I said we have created a market for our local farmers as a priority, especially for the small-scale farmers, who have not had a chance or access to the foreign markets previously.

 

With our facilities, we normally look at them as collection and storage points, in the sense that we add value by storing for a while, which was not the case before, so we have been able to add to this value chain by extending the shelf-life of the agricultural products produced locally or even that being imported from other countries, in some cases. We also, in those terms, add value to the food security because food security is not only grain, because most people think food security is just grain and that’s not mostly the case.

 

For food security you need to understand to look at different aspects for example, is the food available? Then you look at the source of the food and then you make sure that is it accessible to everybody (consumers).

 

If you look at that again you need to look at whether it is nutritious, because there is no point in having bulk of food if it’s just fibre but does it really contribute to food security if I consume or eat it?. The other aspect is safety is to look at whether the food I’m consuming is it safe? Because if it is not safe to eat, then it is not food secure. With that system of ours, that is perhaps also food that is perhaps very important for the nutrition of the people in terms of carbohydrates and so on.

 

  1. Does that mean you act as the regulatory body and mitigation between stakeholders in the Agricultural sector?

 

Yes. We can say that we are also like the price stabilizers. We don’t want to get to rule out the normal market forces which is demand and supply; where we take in to account that this process can be artificial if they are not properly controlled. We look at policy issues to make sure that at least these forces are happening in the framework of benefiting the consumer and the farmer so that we don’t have a situation where we have a market dominated by a certain group of people of for example, the traders dominating the farmers and telling them what prices they should accept for their products. Also to ensure that the consumers are not just price-takers where they are just told what prices they should pay for the produce without having a say, which is the current state.

 

  1. How has the establishment of the Fresh Produce Hubs (FPH) enabled AMTA to fulfil its mandate?

 

Normally these are vital to operations because these are the infrastructure. In terms of marketing the produce, which is a very sensitive commodity; Fresh produce is fresh produce as by name. It should be fresh. The moment you keep it for time or in a condition that does not keep it fresh, then you will not call it fresh produce anymore. This infrastructure is normally meant to facilitate that. This infrastructure is very important because it is located close to the farms or production areas, where after harvesting, the farmers can bring the produce to the hubs so that the freshness can be maintained. We have cold storage facilities that are, in SADC for example, at a class to rival those that are the best in the world even. Even South Africa, where we get everything that we think is fine, won’t reach the class of our cold storage facilities. These facilities are designed in such a way that they can keep our fresh produce fresh for long periods of time. Maybe it is even more fitting that in Namibia, because of our environment maybe, Namibia is a little bit hot and the heat can be extreme at times so it’s appropriate that we have these facilities which can contain and hold this produce.

 

  1. What is the maximum period that produces can be stored in these Cold Storage Facilities before they are deemed unusable?

 

It depends on the kind of produce and the reason you want it maintained. For example I can give you a scenario where some crops that are seasonal, where they are only harvested once a season. Now, if your target for example is to this crop that is only harvested once a season then and is also needs to be consumed during that period, then what you will do is to produce it in abundance during that time to that so that you can calculate and so that you can have it on the market through the time when it is not growing and the only option is to store it as storage is usually the method used to extend the shelf-life. If I can give a specific example then we can look at grapes because they only grow between December and January. So we will either have to import from other countries where the weather is different or where they grow it at a different period, or you have to store it. Up to now I think we still have the grapes from the last harvest in our facilities because we want to have grapes through-out the course of the year.

 

There are then products that are produced through-out the year so those once we don’t need to store because we will just keep them in the facilities until such a time that we need to sell them as fresh produce.

 

 

 

  1. In view of the fact that AMTA is akin to the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB) what is the difference between the two organizations?

 

The Namibian Agronomic Board has been there since 1992 when the act was changed to make it the Namibian Agronomic Board or the Namibian Industrial Act and that act is a very powerful one because it is looking at all agronomic issues such as production, marketing, processing and the regulation of that. What happened is that the NAB is usually enacted by parliament, while AMTA is still to be added even though it falls under this act.

 

What happened is that the Ministry [of Agriculture] had to decide whether to abolish the industrial act and come up with two acts, one for the NAB and one for AMTA for example or to amend the act to accommodate AMTA and AgriBusDev. That was the question that the Ministry was faced with because all the things, as I mentioned before that the NAB was supposed to do, they were not doing it, as a body and some of the things were not effective, so it was dormant. That is why government came up with another body to implement some of these things, which are part and parcel of this act, and that is why they established AMTA and AgriBusDev.

 

Again, the whole thing came because the NAB could not deliver the expectations on them. What now happens is that the NAB will remain but in a stakeholder development capacity. The market share promotion, for example, will be decided by the stakeholders and once this happens, the NAB will advise the Ministry and then the implementation of this market share promotion will be AMTA’s responsibility. That is if it is a market related issue, if it is production, it will be handled by AgriBusDev.

 

  1. What is the current organizational structure of AMPTA?

We have a board of directors. We have a Managing Director, myself, who is also a member of the board. This fits well because other organizations choose to have a CEO which means that this person is not accountable and all the blame when things go wrong is directed to the board, meaning that this person is not accountable, so that is not the case here because I’m also part of the board and I am a voting member on that board even though I am managing the organization.

 

We have five (5) departmental managers; One for the Support Services, Human Resource, Operations - these are two because one is responsible for the Fresh Produce Hubs and the other for the National Strategic Food Reserves - and then we have the Marketing and Research.

 

We have a lot of committees such as the HR committee, the Tender committee, the Finance committee and so on and they are usually advising on whatever division they fall under. These committees are usually comprised of board members and senior managers.

 

  1. With reference to AMTA’s staff, what steps has the agency taken to train its staff to be fully capable to fulfil the mandate that the government has tasked it with?

 

Training for us has been an on-going thing. We have a consultant from the Ministry who has been assisting us with setting up training since the beginning.

 

We also send people around, mostly to South Africa, and it happens every week or every month where we send out 10 or more people to visit labs and facilities. We look send them to retailers like Woolworths to understand how they do it so we can also do these things locally.

 

We don’t really have a long-term approach for training as yet. We are looking at short-term workshops and so on. We don’t want most of our staff to go and get technical skills because those they have already with degrees and so on so it’s really just to add on to that.

 

 

  1. How does the agency ensure that their produce is of the requisite standard, particularly in terms of quality?

 

We are also tasked to control the market share promotion. Since we cannot produce everything that is consumed in Namibia, but we are encouraging to push at least a certain volume, which we can produce in Namibia in the market and make it compulsory for everybody who is import to first look at local products. Currently we call this the market share promotion, which has been introduced for some many years and currently stands at 41.5%.

 

This means that any retail or anybody in Namibia who wants to import fruits and vegetables should first buy locally. They have to buy this 41.5% before we can allow them to import these products from outside the country. Fortunately, since December last year, we have also been given the responsibility of issuing the import permit. This is one of our control points to say that we have to look at the market share promotion before we issue any import permits to any trader to bring in agricultural produce.

 

In doing that, we now look to make sure that they meet that 41.5% because they have to produce at least this 41.5% because if they do not meet this quota and we have given out import permits in line with this structure then it creates a shortage of these products on the market in the country by creating what I referred to as the demand and supply.

 

What then do is work together with AgriBusDev, who are also the ones managing the Green Scheme project and so on, to develop a calendar or schedule where we will schedule farmers to produce. We can, for example, look at how much land a farmer uses and say; they can use a hectare to plant tomatoes, another for potatoes and so on over a period of time so that we can have a constant supply of these products. This has not been done in the past, but production schedules are a common practice in other countries so that when the farmer places the seed into the soil, they already know that they are producing this for who and at what price because we already draw up contracts with this person they are producing for.

 

This ensures that their produce is not going to waste because a farmer can wake up and want to engage in farming activities and once they have produced this product that’s when they want to approach people to say; look, I have produced this tomato, can you please buy? This allows exploitation because the consumers can say; No, this is not the kind of tomato I want so can I just buy it for N$2 instead of the N$5 you are selling it for? This is how they would then lose out.

 

  1. How exactly do local farmers benefit from AMTA compared to the time before the agency’s inception?

 

The critical thing in food production id that you should have organised production; where you have a schedule of when they should produce. You contract farmers to produce for you a specific variety of whatever you want. So as a trader, for example, you can go to the farmer and say; I want a tomato but I don’t want it with seeds because my customers use them for salads and so on. So this is the starting point in the sense that it should be descriptive about what product a farmer has to plant and for what market. The only person who can come with that information is the trader who has the link with the customer.

 

Now after that the trader has to identify a farmer that will be able to produce this product for them. You cannot, as a trader, go to some of the northern farmers and say that they must produce for you the quality of Pick n’ Pay. That farmer will not meet that and this has been the case because we overlook that. It is not to say that these farmers cannot be trained to produce for these markets because a lot of countries in Africa have small farmers that are exporting to even European markets. A good example of this is Kenya, which has small-scale farmers all across the country that are responsible for the country’s agricultural produce. They do not have a setup like ours where we have commercial and small-scale farmers.

 

Another challenge is when you have a farmer who wants to produce this kind of product but does not have the knowledge of where to get the seed from. Even now if you go to Rundu, they have the small holder’s outlet there that sells seeds but it’s very limited. So another option would be to travel to Grootfontein to get this seed. Now imagine a small holder farmer travelling about 500km just to get a seed and some of them come with fertilizer so they are even more expensive and these farmers cannot afford them.

 

So what AMTA is going to do and what we have already started doing is because our mandate is to market and trade, but that does not limit us to marketing the finished products, we can also market other products along the value chain and this includes the inputs. That is why we have, at our facilities, we have space for people who want to come and sell inputs like fertilizers, seeds so on can put up a shop there, so that when the farmer comes to deliver their produce, they don’t need to travel again to Grootfontein or Windhoek to buy inputs. We are in the process to have a one-stop-shop for all these activities.