The decision to temporarily suspend the 1:6 export ratio of the Small Stock Marketing Scheme is long overdue and could not have come a day too soon.
The only remaining question is why Government has not decided to trash the scheme altogether or at least radically transform its implementation?
While the Government clearly had noble goals when it introduced the scheme, the practical implementation of the scheme was poorly conceived.
When the Government first mooted the idea in 2004/5, it aimed to increase the utilisation of slaughtering capacity at small-stock abattoirs to at least 80 percent.
It believed that this would increase value addition in the livestock sector and thereby create much needed employment.
These days, no right-minded person questions Namibia’s need to move away from merely exporting raw materials and primary products.
The country needs to move higher up the food chain and start adding-value to its natural resources in order to derive meaningful economic benefits from these resources.
That entails transforming the economy from one that largely produces primary products to an economy with tertiary industries that manufacture either semi-processed or finished goods.
Only by moving in this direction will the country realise significant economic growth and the creation of real jobs for our vast army of unemployed.
This is an important national goal that we all need to support, and in addition might require us all to make major sacrifices.
Government however, needs to consider fairness when it calls on people to make sacrifices in pursuit of national objectives.
It cannot call on only one section of the population, or only certain regions of the country to sacrifice blood and sweat in order to bring about something that will benefit us all.
Therein lies the fundamental flaw of the Small Stock Marketing Scheme in its current form.
It has disproportionally, and unfairly, called on communal farmers – particularly in the south – to make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the country as a whole.
Communal farmers predominantly produce fat-tail and so-called ‘off-grade’ sheep.
South Africa has a far larger market for these two categories of sheep because the meat industry mainly uses them for the production of processed meat products.
Hartlief and Windhoek Schlachterei dominate the processed meat market in Namibia.
However, these two modestly sized companies have nowhere near the capacity to absorb all the fat-tail and so-called ‘off-grade’ sheep produced in the country.
Government needs to go back to the drawing board and ask itself what the Small Stock Marketing Scheme has really achieved in the past eight or so years.
How much has the scheme contributed in terms of economic growth; how many jobs has it created – but above all at what cost?
Has it created 300, 400 or 1,000 jobs, but if so at whose expense. How many thousands of communal farmers have had their livelihoods destroyed as a result.
The main victims of the scheme are clearly that black communal farmers, because only white farmers with lush grazing on their farms can really afford to farm with more lucrative sheep breeds such as the Dorper.
Sheep and goat husbandry remains the mainstay of farming in the south of the country and in large part the only means of livelihood in that part of the country.
As things stand right now, the south unfortunately does not have much else going for it economically.
Partly because of the Small Stock Marketing Scheme, many communal farmers in the south turned to cattle farming, with disastrous consequences sometimes as the recent drought proved.
Many areas in the southern regions have abundant grazing, but they lack adequate underground water resources to support large cattle populations.
Why should impoverished black communal farmers who can barely feed their families have to carry a disproportionate share of the burden to achieve the Government’s industrialisation policy?
Why should high-income, wealthy and well-fed people not bear the burden instead?
Let’s be fair, if we want to achieve our goal of value addition and industrialisation everyone should sacrifice equally.
Sheep farmers would have no problem rallying to the call to patriotism if everyone paid the price equally.
They would be more than happy to play their part if local abattoirs paid them the same price for their sheep as the South African market does. If Government really wanted to act fairly it would subsidise small-stock abattoirs from tax revenue, thereby ensuring that everyone sacrifices equally.