Ruling party Members of Parliament (MPs) on Friday rejected a motion in which Member of Parliament for Ngami Caterpillar Hikuama had requested government to consider bailing out Ngamiland farmers unable to repay the National Development Bank-foot and mouth relief fund loans.
The loan issuance followed an outbreak of the deadly livestock disease in the area in 2008 but its proving very difficult, each passing year, for farmers to repay the outstanding balances.
In 2013 NDB estimated that the total amount borrowed by 5721 farmers was P105 million and that out of this amount only P21 million had been paid. Fast forward to 2021, the money owed to the bank has been pegged at P51 million and now farmers are intensifying their calls to have the debt cancelled.
When responding to the motion, The Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Karabo Gare said it will set a bad precedence arguing that more people owing government institutions will also come forth to request for waiver.
“We cannot afford to waive these farmers because this will discriminate other Batswana who had successfully applied for loans from government institutions to do other businesses,” said Gare.
He further said there are many Batswana struggling to service their loans, citing former BCL employees.
“A lot of horticulture farmers whose crops were recently damaged are funded by CEDA and they are certainly going to struggle to pay back CEDA, so in short we cannot afford to write off Ngamiland farmers debt,” added Gare.
He further advised Ngamiland farmers to approach NDB in order to set up a payment plan, stating that whenever government comes up with a financial relief fund for farmers it is meant to cushion and then be paid back into public coffers.
“The principle of public finances is that you cannot single out one item because it will have a great impact on government balance sheet, so we cannot agree with this motion based on the points I just alluded to,” said Gare.
For his part, Ngamiland Joint Farmers Association Chairman, Frank Mafela maintained that it will be difficult for farmers to service the loan as it has long proven that farmers no longer have the financial means to do so.
“It is going to be impossible for farmers to service the loan because we are already burdened as farmers in the region, there is no commercial farming as you know that we live with wild animals and they always destroy our production,” said Mafela.
He further said they will now have to sit down as farmers to request for a meeting with government on the issue.
“We will not give up because maybe the issue was politicized but perhaps if we bring it back as farmers we will be given audience,” added Mafela.
He further said they have previously made attempts to meet with the Minister but they were unsuccessful.
Mafela highlighted that although farmers have so far been able to play a part in servicing the loan, government should also be considerate to waive them.
He also says the proposed meeting will afford them an opportunity to discuss a myriad of things including the proposed new beef markets.
Member of Parliament for Ngami, Caterpillar Hikuama said the motion sought to help the affected farmers.
“I am disappointed in the Minister’s response because I had expected him to assist farmers knowing their dire situation, his response was all over the place, but we will sit and re-propose it in a different manner,” said Hikuama.