Feeding the nation
Agro farming could ease Namibia’s unemployment woes.
06 May 2019 | Agriculture
Ranjit Patil; Agronomist; “It is not rocket science. We need water, temperature, land, seed, workers and to control insecticide.”
The Agro farming industry could possibly rid Namibia of unemployment within the next five to ten years.
This is the opinion of Ranjit Patil, the head Agronomist at Farm Shalom, a smallholding along the Swakop river approximately 10 km outside of Swakopmund where a variety of crops are being cultivated in innovative ways.
Patil, who is an expert in the science of soil management and crop production, is responsible for crops grown in greenhouses at Farm Shalom.
The number of greenhouses increased from 6 in 2006 to 29 in 2019 with more under construction.
Each greenhouse (structure with irrigation system) on the 8 hectare farm was imported from India and set up at a cost of approximately N$250 000.
A greenhouse covers an area of 350 square metres and accommodates 1 000 plants.
Farm Shalom employs 23 people and supplies fresh vegetables and cut flowers to local households, restaurants and groceries as well as hotels along the Namibian coast.
Products harvested are sold out continuously and the owner is now considering going beyond distributing to the coast only.
There are over 1 300 trees (including mature olive trees) on the property.
Approximately 700 kg of tomatoes and 1 200 kg of cucumbers are harvested weekly.
Each cucumber plantation renders approximately 100 000 cucumbers which are supplied to wholesalers at between N$7 and N$10 each.
One tomato plant has a six-month lifespan and produces 6 kg of tomatoes, sold at N$18 per kg.
Green pepper is sold at N$40 and yellow pepper at between N$50 and N$65 per kg.
The farm also produces flowers and pressed olive oil.
The heart of the farm is a desalination plant recently acquired at a cost of N$1,434.35 million from Israel.
Farm Shalom is the flagship project for local partner AvaGro, which provides agricultural turnkey solutions to implement customised concepts for production in challenging environmental conditions like Namibia’s desert climate.
“Namibia cannot produce the quality flowers produced in Kenya or Israel. The country is perfect for vegetable and flower production, and is capable of producing a quality which cannot be reproduced by other countries,” Patil told attendees at a conversation on fostering integrated and sustainable agricultural supply chains hosted by Dubai-based Meet the Farmers Conference, crenov8 and local partner AvaGro Namibia.
The event attracted a group of diverse farmers, farming entrepreneurs, farming technology experts and education and finance contributors.
Patil said that the requirements and ingredients required for high-tech agro culture are readily available and it was actually a quite simple process.
“It is not rocket science. We need water, temperature, land, seed, workers and to control insecticide. Namibia also has quite a unique climate which provides great opportunity.”
Allan Mupambwa, a researcher on desert agriculture at the University of Namibia (Unam), concurred with Patil and said that the Namibian desert environment was not very hot.
“Conditions are perfect and it is actually a shame that we are importing food for the food bank and feeding schemes.”
Patil said everything used in the crop production process at Farm Shalom was designed in Namibia specifically for Namibian conditions.
“We are facilitating the transfer of technology to make agro-farming sustainable. The financial model is very maintainable and includes the transfer of skills. We design and guide first time farmers until the first production with practical training in the greenhouse.”
Meet the Farmers Conference is working with African farmers to access markets in the Middle East and to expand agro-trade between the regions.
Dr Vic Naik, the founder of Farm Shalom, stressed that Namibia possessed all the fundamentals to be a great exporter of agricultural produce.
“Growing commercial, sustainable agricultural ventures however require access to technology to mitigate climate change, access to markets and access to funding.”
AvaGro CEO Leonie Hartmann explained that the United Arab Emirates market and beyond offered Namibia various benefits.
“The UAE is a free trade area and there is less competition, regulation and saturation of markets compared to for example Europe and the USA. The UAE imports 100 billion USD worth of agricultural produce yearly, which makes it an attractive prospect for agro-trade.”
Hartmann said although Namibia imports 87 per cent of its horticulture, turning from a Net-Importer of agricultural goods to a more export-focused economy in agriculture will gain the country foreign currency, increase the GDP and attract foreign direct investment.
She also highlighted the need for training in applied agricultural sciences to fill the gap between theory and practice in order to turn job seekers into job creators.
“It will be crucial to create a critical mass of people and produce in order for Namibia to start exporting to the UAE. AvaGro is committed to coordinate potential exporters in the most efficient way.”