The Kalimbeza Rice Project is currently busy conducting research on how to produce the high-end Basmati rice. Having started off on a meagre 1.5 hectares, the production area of Kalimbeza National Rice Project near Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi region has over the years increased to 193 hectares and additional rice varieties will soon join the already thriving IRGA Rice, Super Rice and Angola Rice. In a recent interview, Scientific Officer at the Kalimbeza National Rice Project Venaune Hepute said the production area has been “thoroughly increased to 193 hectares” and plans to ensure that Namibian-grown basmati rice is transformed into reality are at an advanced stage. Basmati is a healthy ‘Supergrain” which is gluten-free and low in fat. It contains all eight essential amino acids, folic acid, and is very low in sodium and has no cholesterol. Basmati has a low to medium glycemic index, meaning that energy is released at a slower, steadier rate leading to a more balanced level of energy. “We started with the first rice varieties, some of them were low yielding varieties so research was conducted with high yielding varieties that are currently being introduced,” Hepute said. In terms of infrastructure, new machinery in the form of milling machines were installed at Kalimbeza to improve the quality of rice, Hepute revealed.
“New rice varieties were introduced, we now have Basmati Rice under research which is highly demanded in the international market. The evaluation and inspection is going very well and it will be introduced soon. “Then we have NERICA (New Rice for Africa), we got the seed from Central Africa and Sahel Rice (from China) is also under research and will also be introduced,” Hepute added.
At present new rice varieties from China and Central Africa are under research and will soon be introduced at Kalimbeza. Another improvement at the green scheme project is that a lot of work was now being carried out with the help of machines and is no longer labour intensive compared to when it was launched in 2009.
“The project only started with 1.5 hectares but that production area was increased thoroughly to 193 hectares and the output increased (yield) improved automatically. When the project started, it was too much manual whereby we had to recruit casual workers to carry out all activities starting with planting, transplanting, sowing and weeding. But with the help of government and technological knowledge that was gained through in-service training, production changed.
We now use trans-planters, combine-harvesters and no longer harvest manually,” noted Hepute. In addition, the researcher said: “Through South-South Cooperation, some rice experts from China were deployed at Kalimbeza to exchange knowledge and for Namibians to acquire experience when it comes to rice cultivation.”
With perennial floods affecting most of the Northern parts of Namibia and in some instances leading to the closure of schools, Kalimbeza too is not an exception in this regard. However, Hepute described the flood situation as somewhat a blessing in disguise as it provides the rice project with irrigation water. “For the tall rice (long duration rice) Super Rice can withstand or survive the flood meaning it keeps on growing. So for the varieties (short duration rice) which were harvested, we are busy with post-harvest management,” he added. When it was put to him whether the presence of flood water would constitute any loses, Hepute responded: “It is quite challenging but one cannot take it as a loss per say. It is a disturbance in terms of production but not a loss because that water is being used for the irrigation of the remaining rice.” Additionally, Hepute pointed out that it is difficult to put flood management strategies in place due to the unpredictable nature of floods. “The flood is a natural disaster and it keeps on fluctuating. Come this year, there is no flood and come the next year, flood is all over. So there are some management strategies that we put in place to mitigate the flood.” He further added: “When we get information that there will be flood, we make sure that we harvest the short variety so you plant early for the short variety to be at maturity before the flood enters the field. “Secondly you delay the long duration rice for it to be left in the field for it to survive from this flood water.”
The Namibian grown rice is yet to make its contribution towards government’s highly criticized Food Bank initiative through the Harambee Prosperity Plan, something that Hepute attributes to high demand by the locals. “Because of the demand in this rice from the locals, many people buy it in bulk even before it is taken to the supermarkets. So due to the demand, we haven’t yet had enough stock to contribute towards the Food Bank,” Hepute further noted. In 2015, Kalimbeza rice became fully commercialised through the Agricultural Business Development Agency (AGRIBUSDEV) when more than 70 metric tons of rice from the project were dispatched into the local commercial market. Hepute said the Namibia’s home-grown rice will soon hit the shelves of local retailers as anticipated.