…’Namibian projects can feed Namibians but only if foreign retailers are compelled to source locally.’
To date, only a handful number of retailers source agricultural produce locally, even after government spent over a billion to put up green schemes and fresh produce hubs.
Spar, Woermann Brock, Atlantic Food Services and local catering companies source their fresh produce from the Agro Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA), the agency has since cautioned that the absence of laws compelling foreign retailers to source local produce is hampering the growth of the domestic agricultural market.
AMTA is responsible for the management of Fresh Produce Business Hubs (FPBH) and National Strategic Food Reserve (NSFR) facilities.
The agency’s Regional Manager for Ongwediva Fresh Produce Business Hub, Jacob Hamutenya said government has a lot of work to do, which includes the regulation of foreign retailers, if the country wants to see more local products on the shelves.
Hamutenya believes the absence of laws to restrict and/or control the imports of fresh produce in the country is a serious challenge.
“The notion of free market is being used as an excuse for catering companies to import cheaper (and sometimes lower grade) produce from South Africa at the expense of local fresh produce. This has a negative impact on the performance of the hubs as farmers produce will be competing with imports from South Africa,” said Hamutenya.
According to Hamutenya, under current arrangements, the importer is only required to buy a 44 percent of the local produce for the Market Share Promotion (MSP), a percentage that he feels is a drop in the ocean.
“If the current restrictions (close border periods) for potatoes and onions can be extended to other product lines, this will help to secure the market for locally produced fresh produce,” he added.
The country has 14 greens schemes. Eight are in the two Kavango regions, one in Omusati, one in Zambezi, one in !Karas, another in Hardap and two in the Kunene region. The projects thus far are feeding Namibia with maize, vegetables, millet, wheat, barley, sunflower, asparagus, rice, grapes and lucerne.
AMTA sources most of the produce from Etunda in Omusati and Sikondo in the Kavango region. Some of the produce they get are cabbage, sweet potatoes, butternuts, pumpkins, carrots, watermelons, potatoes and onions. The agency also gets grapes from Aussenkehr in the South.
Hamutenya believes that only once local schemes get the push to produce more guaranteed that their produce will make the shelves, only then will there be a boost in the market.
“The lack of varieties is another challenge; however, if the traders are willing to support the local farmers, this issue will not be a problem. The country has enough capacity to produce; however, farmers are usually reluctant to grow other fresh produce because there is no guarantee on the market. If borders can be closed, traders will eventually be forced to buy local and farmers will be motivated to produce. Traders can also enter into supply agreement to ensure consistence.”
“The biggest problem we face primarily is the lack of import regulations to restrict traders from importing fresh produce that is available in the country,” he said.
On top of the unleveled playing field, he wants government to support local producers by compelling all government offices, agencies and ministry’s to source their fresh produce from the fresh produce hubs in the country.
Government spent over N$250 million to construct two hubs in Ongwediva and Rundu respectively.
Vision 2030 commits the government to devise programmes and projects to ensure food security at both national and household level. In this regard, the development of state agronomic projects, the construction of silos, fresh produce business hubs and national food security have been amongst the top priorities of government. This is somehow turning out to be just rhetoric as some projects do not get the platform to sell their produce.
To date, the country has seen relative development in the value chains of livestock, fish and cereal subsectors, where production, processing, marketing and distribution activities occur in the country with all associated economic benefits of employment creation, skills and technology development and transfer.
The development of the value chain of the horticultural subsector has lagged behind, so much so that the marketing and distribution activities of horticultural produce have to a large extent been driven from outside Namibia.
“All the projects in this country can feed the country to a point that we will not need anything from outside. The project managers just need to be serious and take on the call for food security. If the projects produce and government guarantees them that everything they produce will be on the market, then you will see the wonders.”
It is alleged that half of the Etunda Irrigation Scheme is underutilized.
The Kalimbeza Rice Project in the Zambezi region is one of the most successful projects under the Green Scheme initiative. Within a short period of its existence, the project has now positioned itself to become the major rice producer contributing towards food security in the country. In 2014/2015, the project planted 50 hectare and harvested 76 metric tons. The following year, the project harvested 120 tons.
Be that as it may, this does not mean that the country has become self-sufficient in the production of rice. The local rice brand still finds it hard to penetrate the national market.
“The rice is only available at a local shop at Katima Mulilo and in Windhoek at the AgriBusDev offices. However other retailers especially from South Africa do not find it difficult to allow our product on their shelves,” said the project head Patrick Kompeli.
Since it is still a relatively a new product, Kompeli said the project’s management is fighting tooth and nail to get the locally-produced rice on the shelves.