Waiting for the rain

27 Oct 2013 21:00

Rarely does lightning strike twice. But for a Noordburg farmer, Paul Elliot Hiskia, surviving this year’s drought leaves him with a story to tell.
On the back of resource sapping drought, half of Hiskia’s property was burned down by a fire that had been caused by lightning in September this year.
His was one of the six farms destroyed by that fire and had it not been for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) and the Namibian army for coming to his rescue in time, Hiskia could have been a nobody by now.
His once flourishing cattle farm has slowly begun turning into a ghost farm and his urge to feed the animals from his own pocket comes from the hope that the rain will definitely come, someday.
“I hope to recover the money I am putting on my own when the rain returns,” he says.
 He cannot sell the cattle; their once lucrative value has now become peanuts.
“Some cows are being sold for N$800, which is not even the price of a goat. As a farmer, you cannot stand and watch your cows die, you also cannot think of selling them at such a pathetic price. Rather, we have to do something,” he says of his 350 herd.
This situation is aggravated by the fact that prices of cattle feed has risen greatly while the value of cattle has gone down significantly.
Hiskia is one of the many farmers who welcomes the recent move by the Agricultural Bank of Namibia (Agribank), to provide four relief measures to assist the local farming community in mitigating the current impact of Namibia’s worst drought in 30 years.
“Farmers are not employed. We survive by selling cattle to afford paying wages, buying diesel and many other farm implements,” says Hiskia who adds, many farmers now have to turn to borrowing from financial institutions such as banks, whose qualifications are very difficult to meet.
“Agribank’s new move will stop farmers who had been forced to turn to cash loans and micro-lenders who have extremely high interest rates. Most of them are forced to sell their property such as cars and other farm implements to afford some of the most basic needs at the farm, like leek,” he says.
 A new Production Loan Facility to allow communal, resettled and commercial farmers to cover daily costs on production inputs such as seeds, fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, fuel and oil costs, as well as wages has been introduced.
“N$75m has been allocated for this facility, which will be offered at a reduced interest rate of four percent for commercial farmers and two percent for communal and resettled farmers,” says Agribank CEO, Leonard Iipumbu.
The first year will be capitalised and the remaining balanced will be amortised for five years.
However, farmers in arrears as of 31 December 2012 will have to pay 25% of their arrears upfront to qualify for this facility and Agribank urges this category of clients to take full advantage of this facility to manage their existing arrears.
Another relief measure being initiated by Agribank is the N$15m ‘Water and Infrastructure Facility’, to enable farmers to upgrade water and other infrastructure to sustain the farms, severely affected by the drought.
Commercial farmers will be assisted at a four-percent interest rate, while communal and resettled farmers will have a two-percent interest rate for a loan term of 15 years.
The Ring Fencing of Arrears and Suspension of Penalty Interest Facility is for farmers in arrears as of 31st December 2012, who will be given an amnesty period of five years.
“Farmers will have to pay 25% of their total arrears upfront and the balance shall be ring-fenced for five years to be paid in five equal instalments. To ensure client affordability, the penalty interest on arrears will be suspended. Defaulting on this facility will leave the bank with no other option but to take legal action and clients currently already at the legal department (of the bank) will not qualify for this facility,” Iipumbu adds.
The bank says this facility will save farmers from forced closure by giving them a second chance as Iipumbu argues this is more of a “workout and restructuring of the arrears”.
The One-Year Instalment Holiday Period Facility is the fourth measure meant to defer until the end of the loan period, thus extending the loan period by one year.
Explains Iipumbu, “A loan period of ten years for livestock would be extended to eleven years at applicable interest rates. Clients not in arrears by 1 January 2013, will qualify for this facility while those in arrears will have to pay 25% upfront of the arrears’ balance to qualify for this facility.”
The closing date to apply for these drought relief facilities is March 31 2014.
“If I do not go for one of these loans ,then I am a fool, not a farmer. If the rain does not break soon, my personal cash reservoirs will dry up and I will not be able to maintain my cattle or the farm workers. I have to go for the Agribank solution. But I sympathise with those who cannot meet the requirements. They are destined for a disaster and it pains me,” says Hiskia.
For some time, the water tankers in the Omaheke Region have helped curb livestock mortality rate and like all the other farmers, Hiskia is one of those waiting for the rains to come.