We weary of confetti, ribbon cuttings and glory speeches when promising economic programmes such as the green schemes run by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) under Agribusdev are launched, and years down the line when positive results were promised, we find the programmes grossly under-funded, poorly staffed, and operating with no momentum for success.
As we look at what brought this nation to its current economic sub-basement, we must look at successive administrations’ tendencies to put more into fluffy and expensive grand openings and lofty promises and less into fulfilling budgetary promises and providing consistent product outputs.
The entire green scheme programme was a long time trophy project of the Founding President. We felt then, and we still feel now, that the programme has merit, if run effectively and as a business and if the promised investment and subsidy was consistently provided.
However, the government budget axe over the years was wielded in a way that undercut the entire effort. We wonder if that was a backdoor way by those who never supported the scheme in the first place, to kill it quietly and over time.
Then Agriculture Minister Dr Nickey Iyambo said in Parliament in 2007 that the green scheme, which government approved in August 2003, was supposed to create thousands of jobs over 15 years, but would cost about N$3.84 billion and those funds would come from State coffers. It didn’t happen.
This exact funding crunch was predicted by Dr Iyambo even back then as he declared that the project would fail over the next 15 years without full government funding. No one listened and here we are, 12 years later with a green elephant.
The green schemes reportedly needed N$1 billion just over the last five years to complete its goals, but government allocated less than 10 percent of that amount and yet still expect results. If, for example, Etunda (a part of the green scheme run directly by Agribusdev since 2015) needs N$51.4 million to run and government gives only N$5 million, what’s the point? That is N$5 million wasted. This is budgetary lunacy.
Who buys a car to do specific things, then refuses to buy fuel? Just face the fact that there are less funds available, make a new plan if the original goals are still valuable or sell the car and move on. Why keep paying for staff to protect the car and bragging to everyone that you own a car, when in fact, the car sits there under-utilized because of insufficient fuel? The green scheme is the ‘car’.
We read that the current Executive Director of the MAWF has been instructed to ‘pick’ from the 11 green scheme projects for funding and discard the rest. Reports say that even funding for the blessed four projects is uncertain.
What sort of ‘close-your-eyes-and-wish’ policy planning is that? Has each project been evaluated for effectiveness and costs noted for exactly what is needed to make the projects viable? Or, as usual, are unilateral instructions being given to ministry managers from the top down with no playbook, guidelines or well-thought-out criteria, including close-down timelines and processes, noted?
In addition, seven of the green scheme projects are being offered for lease. Similar leasing schemes in the past did not work for varying reasons. We’d like to understand how many of those in the MAWF who came up with the ‘leasing’ mandate have actual hands-on farming experience, knowledge about the demand for leasing such defunct projects or reports from agricultural experts evaluating the entire situation?
We are not experts in agricultural land values and products, but it seems that plans to immediately lease chronically underfunded projects, deep in debt for unpaid electricity bills, with disgruntled staff, during an economic crisis, and where the lessee cannot use the land as collateral for bank funding, is massively unrealistic.
One green scheme farm manager claims that although his project was self-sustaining, government cut the land available in half, gave parts of the land to small scale farmers, but did not provide the needed subsidy and financial support for services necessary.
Electricity and water costs go up, the number of workers increases, but the amounts invested by the founder of the programme, i.e., the government, goes down. Among thinking people, such an action is a blueprint for losses, murder of staff morale and a prescription for abject failure. If the green scheme runs like this, what is the point of even ten percent funding? Shut the thing down and put the money elsewhere in the ailing budget.
Populist political actions to address other agendas, do not walk hand-in-hand with profitability, viability and practicality. If true, actions such as this, in effect, have reduced the green scheme to yet another empty promise to the people, all dressed up in fake bells and whistles.
According to their website, the green scheme is an initiative conducted by the MAWF to encourage the development of irrigation based agronomic production in order to increase the contribution of agriculture to the GDP. At the same time, the program had social and skills development goals.
The green scheme was supposed to enhance better land use and food security.
Grossly under-funding the green scheme, goes against the raison d'être of the entire project. Rather than disembowelling the programme with insufficient funding, why not simply close it down and refocus the available resources into another programme that studies show can yield other positive results.