By Khulile Thwala
The Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that a plea by horticulture farmers for a subsidy is on the table after mounting calls for the same. During a recent launch of an E10 million guarantee loan scheme, which is a result of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Agriculture Marketing Board (NAMBoard) and EswatiniBank, horticulture farmers minced no words in expressing their grievances about ease in accessing funding and financial services locally.
Their key requests were a horticulture farmers subsidy and a restructuring of tractor hire services by the government, arguing that maize farmers were given first preference in this aspect, yet horticulture had the potential of generating good revenue for the country.
Director of Agriculture and Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture Nelson Mavuso says the ministry is alive to the needs of horticulture farmers in the kingdom and the provision of a subsidy was not only something that was on the table but was being duly advocated for behind the scenes.
“I think it is important to highlight that the subject of a subsidy for horticulture farmers is something that has been put on the table and is being looked at with a critical eye,” he said.
The MoU signed by the National Agriculture Marketing Board (NAMBoard) and EswatiniBank aims to strengthen this sector through a
financial risk management agreement and it was pioneered for the development and improvement of Eswatini horticulture farmers.
A credit guarantee scheme product was established through the MoU, which aims to increase access to financial services for horticulture smallholder farmers.
Detailing how the guarantee scheme will work, EswatiniBank’s Mazibuse Khumalo shared that NAMBoard will open a call account and deposit funds which will be used as a guarantee and will be administered by the bank. The guarantee scheme provides security for credit facilities granted to eligible horticulture smallholder start-ups and existing enterprises.
According to Khumalo, the loans will be approved by the bank before NAMBoard and the Central Bank of Eswatini (CBE) can issue the guarantee cover. Eligible for credit are horticulture farmers who operate under NAMBoard and are native emaSwati.
The credit facility will fund investment capital for greenhouses, fencing, and an irrigation system. It will also fund working capital for the horticulture farmers to purchase fertiliser, seeds, seedlings, labour and land preparation. The product features listed by Khumalo include loan specifications starting from medium-term loans amounting from E20 000 up to E100 000 for start-up enterprises, with seasonal loans for start-ups of up to E50 000. Existing enterprises will be granted medium-term loans from E30 000 to E500 000 while seasonal loans for these enterprises will range from E15 000 to E100 000.
It was further highlighted that the guarantee is 20 per cent of the required facility to be financed for existing businesses and 10 per cent for start-up enterprises. Khumalo says the repayment period is for up to 36 months and the guarantee can be renewed only upon examining the performance of the borrower to justify an extension.
EswatiniBank Managing Director Nozizwe Mulela, in her remarks, referred to how the MoU was prompted by the fact that Eswatini imports a larger portion of fresh produce from neighbouring countries for local consumption or domestic use. She said this was not a desired situation for a country with capable producers such as horticulture farmers and financiers such as the bank.
“We trust that this partnership with NAMBoard will go a long way in addressing all the challenges encountered in the horticulture production industry,” said the MD.
The initiative was pioneered to try to mitigate or reduce the importation of fresh vegetables.