Anguished commercial farmers in the Chobe District are seeking compensation from the government for the anticipated loss their businesses will suffer as a result of the outbreak of the highly reproductive fruit attacking insect, the African Invader Fly.
The farmers go as far as to accuse the government of double standards as they feel that more focus is shifted towards beef production while horticulture is sidelined.
The Department of Plant Protection, which falls under Christian De Graaf’s Ministry of Agriculture, recently issued a directive to prevent commercial horticulture farmers in the Chobe District from importing their fruit products outside the district.
The farmers are lashing out at the Ministry of Agriculture, singling it out as the culprit responsible for them standing to lose well over P6 million.
The ministry is accused of incompetence and negligence for allegedly sitting on information about the presence of the fly, whose scientific name is Bractrocera Invadens, in the country for about four and half months before it decided to alert the farmers and at the same time issued a directive aimed at crippling their businesses.
The Sunday Standard happened upon farmer Ron Schroder who watched helplessly as thousands of his fruits went to waste because he can’t move them from his farm in Chobe to his customers in Maun Choppies and Shoprite stores countrywide.
Schroder, the owner of Ron’s Fresh Produce, a horticultural project that received funding from the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) in July 2009, said that he fully blames the ministry for failing to warn farmers to stop investing in fruits immediately when they started having suspicions that the fly might have reached our shores back in February.
A local weekly newspaper, quoted the Acting Director of Crop Production, Khaliso Phokedi, having confirmed that “they first suspected a fruit fly in February this year and sent the specimen to South Africa for confirmation”. She is reported to have also said that the department identified another 42 flies in June this year. The paper continues to write that “she, however, conceded that officers from the ministry failed to inform the farmers of their findings”.
“They should compensate us because at this point, we have no means of surviving this tragedy; we invested heavily in fruits and we could have avoided this loss had the ministry alerted us about their suspicions the minute they sent the specimen to South-Africa for testing,” said Schroder.
He said that the worst thing was that even after the ministry received confirmation that the fly was already here in June, they deliberately neglected to alert farmers about their findings.
Schroder’s son, Neil Bennett, who also has a stake at the 180ha farm, is visibly angry at the incompetence he says the ministry has portrayed. He also insisted that should the ministry decide not to compensate them they will have no other option but to go the legal route.
“We can’t help but feel that when cases of foot and mouth break out, action is swift and all efforts are made to try to quarantine the affected areas, but when it comes to our line of business, the ministry drags its feet and in the process ends up costing farmers,” said Bennett.