Feeding the nation

Agro farming could ease Namibia’s unemployment and food security woes.

05 May 2019 | Agriculture

Ranjit Patil; Agronomist; “It is not rocket science. We need water, temperature, land, seed, workers and to control insecticide.”

Swakopmund • Otis Finck


The Agro farming industry could possibly rid the country of unemployment within the next five to ten years.

So says Ranjit Patil, the head agronomist at Farm Shalom, a smallholding around 10km from the Swakopmund and along the river 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 here increased from six in 2006 to 29 in 2019, with more under construction.

Each greenhouse (structure with irrigation system) on the 8ha farm was imported from India and set up at a cost of approximately N$250 000.

A greenhouse covers an area of 350m² and accommodates 1000 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 coast.

Harvests

Products harvested are sold out continuously and the owner is now considering going beyond distributing to the coast only. The farm also accommodates over 1300 trees (including mature olive trees) on the property.

Approximately 700kg of tomatoes and 1 200kg of cucumbers are harvested weekly.

Each cucumber plantation renders around 100 000 cucumbers which are supplied to wholesalers at between N$7 and N$10 each.

One tomato plant has a 6 month lifespan and produces 6kg 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 just over N$1.4 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.

Opportunities

“Namibia cannot produce the quality flowers produced in Kenya or Israel. But it is still ideal for vegetable and some flower production,” Patil told guests 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.

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.”

Allan Mupambwa, a researcher on desert agriculture at Unam, agrees with Patil. “Conditions here are perfect. It is a shame that we are importing food for the food bank and feeding schemes.”

Patil further emphasised that everything used in the crop production process at Farm Shalom was designed in Namibia specifically for local conditions.

“We are facilitating the transfer of technology to make agro farming sustainable. The financial model is maintainable and includes the transfer of skills. We design and guide first time farmers until the first production with practical training in the greenhouse.”

Purpose-driven

The 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 possesses all the fundamentals to be a great exporter of agricultural produce.

“However, growing commercial, sustainable agricultural ventures require access to technology to mitigate climate change, access to markets and access to funding.”

AvaGro CEO Leonie Hartmann said 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 U$100 billion worth of agricultural produce yearly, which makes it an attractive prospect for agro-trade.”

Hartmann said although Namibia imports 87% 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.”

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