Some people think of them as city slickers making wads of cash with livestock, but weekend farming is darn hard work and definitely not for the lazy or fortune seekers. Nobody knows this better than Job Muniaro. His day job is to serve the country as the secretary-general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), but over weekends Job slips away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to drive 350 kilometres to Rooi Duin (Red Dune) to be what he really is – a passionate farmer.
Muniaro, who walked off with the coveted trophy of Communal Producer of the Year at this year’s Meatco awards ceremony, set out on the journey to become a top beef producer five years ago upon his arrival at Rooi Duin, a resettlement farm in the Rietfontein area in the Omaheke Region. And he’s since never looked back.
Muniaro is just one of thousands of Namibians who follow this routine over weekends, driven by a passion to make the most of available land.
New Era Weekend spoke to some of these people extraordinaire people who all share one vision: To combine their collective business and agricultural skills to develop a model farm that exemplifies best practice and embraces technological change.
This breed of farmers all agree that the capital-intensive nature of first-time farming was unrelenting from the point of purchase or renting. Slim margins coupled with the eye-watering costs of buying machinery and stock have been tough, but optimism and passion remain, even in times of drought and closed borders for exporting weaners.
Weekend farmers say their vision encompasses a better quality of life, being more physically active and less stressed than corporate life. The reality is that there’s still stress, it’s just different. They agree that times are hard in farming, but their aim is to make a profit in the long run. “You have to look ahead to see the return on investment,” says small-stock farmer and full-time auctioneer Piet Coetzee.
Muniaro sums it up best by saying there are no paved roads or things handed to the “weekend warriors” on a silver platter. It’s hard work from day one. Farmers are expected to take in huge doses of knowledge in one go if they are to catch up with full-time farmers who have been producing meat of the highest Meatco standards and whose meat land up in the lucrative Norwegian markets.
“And now we have the opportunity to compete and get our meat to the Chinese and American markets. That is my dream too and I attended every Agra course to improve on my knowledge, and over weekends I put my knowledge into practice. I do it every weekend and it costs me some N$1 200 every seven days but it is all worth it,” commented Muniaro.
“One thing is for sure: there is a misconception out there that weekend farmers are all rich and they do it just for fun. In reality, weekend farming is just the opposite. It is cost intensive and you are constantly fighting the clock as time is limited. Success does not come overnight: it is a long and tough road and requires dedication, passion and vast knowledge on all aspects of farming,” Muniaro says.
Weekend farmer Sakkie Kadhikwa, who farms on a piece of communal land in the Oshikoto Region, says he has learned valuable lessons in the past year when he lost some of his Nguni cattle to the drought while an unfaithful manager also helped himself to stock. “It’s no joke trying to farm over weekends far from your possessions,” he laments.
There are three types of buyers entering the market: the private and corporate investors who see farmland as a commodity, those who escape to the countryside at the weekend and do not tend the land themselves, and the new breed of agricultural entrepreneurs, who have ditched the city day job to plough all their funds and business acumen into running the farm themselves.
Renowned Brahman breeder Justice Tjirimuje is one such entrepreneur. He is a full-time businessman who farms over weekends on a piece of land west of Okahandja.
“I am one of the lucky ones whose farm is not so far from Windhoek. Weekend farming requires another set of skills all together. You have to mostly rely on other people running the show and over weekends you give it your best to ensure you are still on track,” he comments.
The man who is generally regarded as the ‘Godfather’ of communal farming, Andrew Korupanda, says he suspects a lot of people have probably seen how volatile their own industries are, how well farmland can perform and are thinking about something long term and secure. “Farming is always stressful. I think weekend farmers deal with another kind of stress, but this type of farming can be rewarding,” he notes.
Some full-time farmers believe weekend farming is going to be the future, considering the growing pressure on land, and more people migrating to cities for better lifestyle prospects.
Agra ProVision regularly hosts farmers’ days to assist weekend and part-time farmers. The sessions provide information on a variety of topics to expose participants to different areas of good livestock management practice, in preparation for the farming season, including rangeland management, animal nutrition, animal health and maintenance of infrastructure.
But, there is competition for space and food between humans and animals/livestock. Therefore, rangelands are under pressure.