Members of the Congo Farmers’ Association, April 2014.
SA farmers in Congo 'not desperate'
Cape Town - The Congo Farmers Association (CFA) wishes to distance itself from some of the statements, accusations and implications made in a series of articles and on social media by the Sunday newspaper Rapport about the farming project in Malolo in the Republic of Congo.
The CFA claims in a statement released on Wednesday that none of the farmers who lease land at Malolo is in such a desperate situation that they cannot return to SA.
"All but one visited their families in SA over the Christmas break, and that farmer’s family visited him in Congo," said the CFA.
"Some are being financed as a collective in a transparent and well governed transaction by a reputable South African agricultural business."
The CFA said those outside the collective have challenges to obtain production financing in the absence of collateral and, given the South African government's policy to avoid bilateral investment treaties, are finding it ever more difficult to obtain finance.
"None of our members want to give up or abandon their farms at Malolo, despite the many challenges. There is a long list of interested farmers from SA, who are eager to grasp the opportunity t join the project, said the CFA.
The organisation claims that "the nature and trend of Rapport’s coverage and blogging criticism by right wing extremists on our project, makes it so much more difficult for our members to access production financing".
The vast majority of the 28 farmers, who entered into lease agreements on land on Malolo, have not even started their farming operations yet, according to the CFA.
"The first failed crops Rapport refers to, was a collective effort by a group of those farmers who had some financing and embarked on a pioneering effort, which involved a gruelling road convoy to Malolo via Namibia, Angola and DRC in December 2011," said the CFA.
The first two harvests apparently did not meet expectations due to various factors such as the worst drought in 37 years, infestation by insects, which were unknown and management problems.
"The contract between that group of farmers and the independent manager was therefore not renewed by the group of farmers, who took over the developed land and existing equipment, along with the outstanding debt," said the CFA.
Though the first harvest was disappointing, it was still the biggest volume of locally produced maize the Congo had ever seen, according to the organisation.
"At a seminar held in Kenya in 2013, it was stated by experts that new farming ventures in Africa take between three to five years to obtain acceptable harvests. The Todi River Farms portion of the Malolo project reaped an acceptable harvest after only 2 years," said the CFA.
The organisation said a proper assessment of lessons learnt has been made, along with professional advice obtained.
"This led to a restructuring of our farmers association as well as the company in which the land is leased for 30 years (renewable) from the Congolese government," said the CFA.
"Many of Rapport’s criticism stems from problems we have encountered prior to our AGM where the reconstruction of our efforts in Congo was mandated."
Internal differences of opinion did play a role in the events, which led to our restructuring, the CFA admitted.
"If any crime or any breach of contract had been committed by an individual or group of farmers under our umbrella, the law should take its course," said the CFA.
The CFA is not aware of any criminal or civil action against any of our members in SA or in Congo.
In terms of it’s memorandum of association with Agri-SA, the CFA takes full responsibility to organise and represent SA farmers in Congo, the organisation said.
"SA farmers in Congo do not demand or expect Agri-SA to get involved with financing, procurement, logistics, operational matters or internal affairs of our farmers association or our land lease company in Congo," the CFA said.
"Any suggestion that Agri-SA should run our affairs or take any blame for our misgivings or failures, is mischievous and embarrassing to both organisations."
The CFA said the suggestion that any funds have been mis-appropriated is preposterous and the organisation is prepared to offer all its financial records to any independent auditor for scrutiny.