Seawater can make desert bloom

New wetland ecosystems tackled

23 February 2021 | Environment

Windhoek • [email protected]

The words “agriculture” and “seawater” are rarely used in the same sentence in Namibia, and to link the two concepts is generally unknown.

However, Edward Plaatjie of BioPro Trading wants to change this state of affairs along with his partner, the Scottish entrepreneur and founder of Seawater Solutions Yanik Nyberg.

After a week in the country, Nyberg surprised with his plans to make the desert green and completely transform agriculture in Namibia.
At a presentation last week, Nyberg said that what he has seen in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, the two towns can be forerunners in being able to build a massive 5 000 hectare agricultural seawater plant worth between N$15 million and N$26 million before the end of the year.

Only half that area will already create 800 jobs, he says, adding that employees typically go through six to eight months of training to develop specific skills.

Feasibility

The feasibility of the concept was proven in 1998 with the excavation of a canal along the coast of Eritrea that allows seawater to flow inland like a river. Led by Dr Carl Hodges, chairman of Global Seawater Incorporated, it is an ecosystem based on between 20 and 30 salt-tolerant plant species, as well as marine animals such as shrimp and tilapia. From this, food for humans and animals could be grown and jobs created.

This was until a coup in 2002 that led to the American atmospheric physicist's eviction.
Nyberg is the winner of awards such as “Young Innovator of the Year 2019” and the “Shell Livewire Smarter Future Award 2019”. His integrated saltwater agricultural ecosystem company currently operates smaller projects in mainland Ghana and Malawi, as well as in Vietnam and Bangladesh. His team of eleven experts create a social impact enterprise that focuses on development and collaboration, he says.
Their proposal for the Namibian coast is a farm with seawater irrigation where salicornia and mangroves, shrimp and tilapia are mainly farmed.

Existing salt works prove that the skills and experience to build necessary earthworks for the project are already available. High unemployment levels and the accessibility of skills, Namibia's established constitutional system and general political stability are also advantages and reasons why a successful project can get off the ground faster, Nyberg says.

Financing

Seawater Solutions that says it is already worth N$92 million, aims to raise N$113 million over three years for the project, with the plan to get half of this from Namibian investors.

“Climate financing has increased sharply in recent years,” Nyberg says, adding that the world's carbon market has also stabilized over the past five years. With the help of partners such as the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the UNDP and dozens of investment companies that offer large investments for similar projects, he is confident the money will be available.

So far, Plaatjie has been able to arrange for Nyberg to meet with officials from the Swakopmund and Walvis Bay municipalities, the Development Bank of Namibia and Bank Windhoek. They hope to be able to meet with CEOs from both coastal towns soon.

In the meantime, Nangula Uaandja, CEO of the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board, has undertaken to facilitate communication with the Ministry of Industrialization and Trade and SME Development, and the Environmental Investment Fund (EIF).

“Namibia offers a unique opportunity. We hope for local investment, because it is very important to us. We typically take a minority stake in our projects as an exit strategy and we focus on local ownership structures. We aim to raise about half of the project's funding locally to continue. We hope to have definite answers from government, municipalities and about financing by the middle of the year,” Nyberg said.

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