The decentralisation of the Agriculture Bank of Namibia (Agribank) is certainly yielding tremendous results as farmers from all walks of life now have accessible loans within their reach.
For Agribank, it is just not about the loans, for it goes miles down the road to mentoring and training the farmers who are all geared towards optimal agricultural output.
The Otjeroku branch manager (in Otjiwarongo, which is the biggest branch in the country in terms of size and clientele base) Wylie Upi says, “We understand agriculture deeply. As a leading player in the agricultural financial resources, we take pride in the development of agriculture and related industries.”
Big in size and value
Otjeroku serves a vast geographical area, which covers the Erongo Region, parts of the Kunene, Oshikoto, Otjozondjupa regions and as far as Gam.
Upi explains, the branch is not only big in size but it also has the largest loan book, which amounts to N$ 845m. He adds, since late last year until recently, N$53m has, so far, been disbursed to interested farmers.
According to Upi, the growth of the loan book is a confirmation that, “the people’s bank” is enabling farmers to pursue their farming dreams. It thus counters the perception the general public often has that the bank does not give out loans.
Farmers who can access this branch come from mixed backgrounds. As such, they are made up of commercial, communal and post-resettlement farmers (those who have successfully been resettled). Such farmers take the loans for a variety of purposes, such as to purchase large and small stock, land, labourer’s houses as well as production loans.
“As a branch, we play a significant role in the country’s economy seeing that the majority of our people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture,” Upi points out.
Given the amount of excellent farming activities in his area of jurisdiction, Upi is convinced that farming should be given all the necessary financial resources, which they indeed receive. He is also of the opinion that significant investment in this important arm of the economy - agriculture - will create sustainability and enhance wealth creation for the greater good of not only the region but the nation at large.
On loan disbursement, Upi says the biggest chunk is consumed by the Affirmation Action Loan Scheme, followed by commercial farmers and then those who buy farms in commercial areas. So far, close to N$300m alone goes towards the purchase of land while N$113m is used for the purchase of livestock.
He is, however, concerned over the sluggish repayment process, which he says they are working on. He and his team have already come up with proposals to help farmers expedite the repayment of their loans.
While his branch has so many success stories, Upi takes note of two special projects; The Crocodile Farm in Otjiwarongo and the Halali Pig Project whose development and growth have exceeded their expectations.
Since the change of ownership of the former, a lot of improvements, including the installation of the solar system, the expansion of the slaughter rooms and a coffee shop enabling visitors to relax in between activities, have taken place, he admits. The piggery farm also does well as productivity has been consistent since the previous years.
The drought and veld fires
Agribank’s Otjeroku branch has not been spared from the current climatic condition. Crop and livestock productivity have been rendered vulnerable to the vagaries of this natural phenomenon in that area too.
Hence, Upi calls upon farmers to seriously consider repaying their loans: “We had a pretty good [former] season, so farmers should be able to repay their loans because we do not know how long the drought will last.”
Besides the drought, the bank caters for pressing issues, such as the increasing veld fires in crucial points, which ultimately impact on the region’s agricultural productivity. The bank has already drawn proposals that are at an advanced. It is working on how to ease farmers’ burden and keep holding their hands during these trying times.
The bank’s branch is impressed with the level of quality farming taking place in its region. It will thus not rest on its laurels till it achieves better standards.
“We are the bank for the farmers,” beams Upi.
One of the goals the bank is working towards is the intensification of the productivity of horticultural farming in communal areas. It plans to achieve this by assisting farmers implement and sustain these agricultural activities, to unlock the untapped potential of horticultural farming in the region.
Outreach and cementing client relationships
Agribank, according to Upi, exists to extent the necessary support farmers need: “Farmers need us more this year than they’ve ever done for moral and resource support.”
As the branch manager, Upi always makes himself available to listen and advise farmers on both specific and general issues they may face. Agribank’s presence is being felt in various foras of this region, which it uses to share information about the loans and the application process.
Upi thus invites all farmers to visit their Otjiwarongo office to have their funding needs met. He adds, the bank does this at reasonable interest rates and repayment structures in accordance with a sound economic principle under specific requirements. This, he says, makes Agribank stick out as “the people’s bank”. PF