Local crop production boomsBy: THORSTEN SCHIER
A POLICY introduced five years ago to stimulate local fruit and vegetable production is starting to pay dividends. The rule states that local retailers have to buy a certain percentage of their stock from local suppliers or face penalties.
The percentage currently stands at 32,5 per cent, and has been increasing steadily over the last few years.
If a retailer buys less than this percentage in one month, it is penalised by not being allowed to import more foreign produce the next month.
Chris Brock, Chief Executive Officer of the Namibian Agronomic Board, says this system has ensured “a steady rise in producers” in Namibia.
He says the rule has forced retailers to look at getting direct supply from local producers, where many large retailers previously got all their stock from South Africa.
Shops like Fruit and Veg City have come up with innovative ways to tackle the local supply quota, for example setting up a central collection point for local farmers.
Called Fruit and Veg Fresh Produce Market, farmers can offload all their produce at the market instead of having to sell them to individual producers as before.
The produce is then sold on to retailers.
Fruit and Veg City is currently supplied by about 67 local farmers, with about 35 to 40 of them supplying the shop in any given season.
The shop gets 32 different products grown locally, from truffles to beetroot and white radish.
Managing Director Louis Peens says on the vegetable side, the shop currently buys about 75 per cent of its stock from local suppliers.
Fruit and Veg City is also actively working with farmers to help them plant crops that retailers need and support them in getting bank loans by providing the surety of contracts.
Brock says one of the main problems is co-ordinating what farmers plant to avoid an oversupply of certain products “in the easy months”.
Cabbages, for example, are popular with farmers as they are easy to grow, but he says farmers need to diversify in order to give retailers what they need.
A recent survey commissioned by the Agronomic Board and carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggests that while local farmers are now supplying 82 per cent of the cabbages needed by the local market, 94 per cent of the country’s potatoes are still imported from South Africa.
Since the publication of the report, however, several Namibian farmers have started producing potatoes, and Fruit and Veg Fresh Produce Market procurement manager Leon Nel says this year “will be one of the biggest potato harvests in Namibia ever”.
The introduction of the new rule has also boosted the development of huge agricultural companies in Namibia.
For example, Namfo near Tsumeb currently supplies Fruit and Veg with about 24 tonnes of produce each day, according to Nel.
“Namfo started after we started the initiative,” Brock says.
The company is the brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Himmel after he saw the potential gap in the market for local produce.
Other big companies include Green Crisp near Okahandja, which is run by Anton Koekemoer, who Peens said is one of the “most high-tech farmers in the country”.
Green Crisp supplies Fruit and Veg with about 1 500 lettuces a day.
A new Government initiative is also set to make it easier for farmers to get their produce to retailers.
Large markets are to be set up in key municipal areas where farmers can offload their products and sell them directly to retailers.
While Brock says these markets will make it easier for people to order produce and reduce retailers’ turnaround time, he sees the future of the industry more in direct contracts between retailers and producers.
He says the PWC report estimates that Namibia can theoretically produce 60 per cent of its total fruit and vegetable needs, and he says organisations and producers should strive to get as close to that number as possible.
Brock says while Namibia should focus on the local production sector, the country should not forget about exports.
In order to increase exports, Namibia could look at high-value crops that can be grown here, as is currently the case with table grapes.
The key, he says, would be to look at niche markets where Namibia could have an advantage, for example crops that ripen here earlier than in other countries.