White maize, pearl millet production to decrease

The Namibian Agronomic Board CEO, Dr Fidelis Mwazi speaks to the Windhoek Observer about crop production, Namibia starting to produce its own seeds and maize production.

Windhoek Observer (WO): It was reported that the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB) aims to capacitate local farmers to increase their yields and realise Namibia’s food self-sufficiency. Could you elaborate on this?

Fidelis Mwazi (FM); The NAB has multiple mechanisms in place focused on capacitating Namibian producers to further increase their crop yields and realise Namibia’s food self-sufficiency. Here are some of the most notable initiatives.

Horticulture Market Share Promotion (MSP) scheme is a growth-at-home strategy implemented by the NAB and aims at stimulating horticultural production in Namibia and the promotion of local sales of locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables. The scheme requires importers of fresh fruits and vegetables to procure Namibian horticultural products equivalent to at least the minimum of 47% as a prerequisite to obtaining an import permit. This means that only traders or importers who have achieved their minimum MSP are allowed to import horticultural products unrestricted. The MSP implementation also protects Namibian producers from cheap horticultural fresh produce imported from other countries. Thereby encouraging local producers to produce more with a guaranteed market.

The Horticulture Special Control Products (SCP) scheme allows for the implementation of import restrictions on selected horticultural products during times of sufficient local production, which encourages fresh produce traders to source locally produced horticultural products. The scheme currently has 18 products, namely, potato, onion, cabbage, butternut, tomato, carrot, sweet pepper, English cucumber, sweet potato, beetroot, gem squash, watermelon, sweet melon, pumpkin, sweetcorn, lettuce and spinach.

The NAB is actively empowering Namibian agronomy and horticulture farmers by providing comprehensive training in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) principles based on the local Primary Farm Assurance (PFA) standard requirements for food safety and hygiene. These workshops are systematically conducted across all seven production zones, exclusively available to NAB-registered farmers.

The trainings are designed to assist producers with the understanding, adaptation and maintenance of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) approaches, principles, and systems to increase farm productivity and yield, cut exposure to food safety risks, sustainable production systems, enhance access to markets and comply with legislation on food safety. Compliance with the PFA standards not only signifies a commitment to meet minimum requirements for quality and food safety standards, but also facilitates entry to both regional and international markets, improves traceability and gains consumer confidence. Consumers worldwide are increasingly demanding quality foods, produced safely and sustainably. and certification to these standards is often a prerequisite for the exportation of agronomic and horticultural products. By spearheading this initiative, we will ensure market access as well as consumer and environmental well-being, and ultimately secure economic viability while also contributing to global agricultural sustainability goals and food self-sufficiency.

OM: You have also spoken of the need to produce its own seeds, how can this be done and will this be done by the NAB and if not, which institutions can produce seeds in Namibia?

FM: Certainly, addressing the need for seed production is a crucial aspect of our strategic agenda at the NAB. The NAB is committed to conducting comprehensive research throughout the agronomy and horticulture value chain, guided by market demands and industry requirements, in order to make informed decisions that support the growth of our emerging sector. Currently, we are actively engaged in two significant research projects in collaboration with the University of Namibia (UNAM) and Comptoir Du Plant.

The UNAM/NAB seed research project is an ongoing research is now in its third year. This project involves rigorous trials conducted in various production zones across Namibia. Preliminary results have been promising, with the identification of high-yielding seed varieties suitable for commercialisation. Our research trials encompass white maize, wheat, pearl millet, and sesame seed varieties, each adapted to different production zones.

The NAB/Comptoir Du Plant partnership is an initiative that focuses on potato seed research. Through field trials, we have evaluated six potato varieties imported from France to assess their yield performance. Positively, at least four of these varieties have demonstrated superior performance compared to local commercial counterparts. As a result, commercialisation efforts are currently underway, with producers importing these varieties for local production. We are actively developing mechanisms to facilitate the importation of such varieties for commercial cultivation by both commercial and communal smallholder farmers.

These initiatives from part of collective efforts dedicated to advancing the production of high-quality seed varieties that exhibit exceptional adaptability to Namibia’s diverse soil and climatic conditions. In doing so, we aim to unlock the potential for increased crop yields while fostering the development of a robust seed production industry in Namibia.

OM: The board has recently reappointed you as Chief Executive Officer, what are you looking forward to doing in your next term?

FM: This reappointment reaffirms my commitment to advancing sustainable crop production, research, and stakeholder collaboration. I look forward to continuing our journey towards a green economy focused on fostering growth and innovation in the pursuit of excellence in agronomy and horticulture market development.

OM: Maize production reached a record high of 98 000 MT in 2022 from 67 000 in 2017 and horticultural product exports surged to 86 259 MT valued at N$1.7 billion in the 2022/23 financial year, from 55 358 MT in the 2017/18 financial year. What is the forecast of future production of maize, millet and horticulture production?

FM: For the 2023 harvesting season, white maize and pearl millet production is expected to decrease by 38% and 90% respectively, when compared to 2022, due to the due to the drought situation that has affected major producing areas. White maize production and pearl millet production are heavily affected by drought and hence it is difficult to predict an upward increase, unless the aspect of irrigated production is addressed to minimise the impact of drought.

On the other hand, horticulture production is expected to increase in 2023 and the foreseeable future due to the increase in hectares under production for crops such as citrus, grapes and blueberries, while some of the small-scale farmers have recently embarked on potato production, as one of the vegetable crops that has the highest potential for increased local production.

Furthermore, the forecasted El Niño for the 2023/ 2024 planting season is likely to affect dryland crop production in Namibia, as the majority of the farmers rely on rainfall to grow staple food crops such as maize and pearl millet, and hence worsening household food security situation in the country.

OM: What are some of the hindrances that Namibia faces in its quest to become food self-sufficiency?

FM: Escalating costs associated with agricultural inputs, particularly fertilizers and seeds. Industry leaders therefore need to come up with targeted policies, invest in research and development, foster local input production, and explore innovative financing mechanisms to support farmers in acquiring essential inputs. Lack of investment in Agro-processing and value edition of agronomic and horticultural crops. Investment in agro-processing holds the potential to significantly accelerate Namibia’s journey towards food self-sufficiency as it will ensure that Namibia adds value to its raw agricultural produce, which will in turn create a more stable, diverse food supply and provide employment opportunities to stimulate economic growth.

The Namibian crop industry is faced with many challenges that affect production as a result of climate change and variability. Hence there is a need to build resilience in the farming community against natural calamities such as high temperatures, frost, erratic rainfall, floods, and pest and disease outbreaks, through research and development.

Drought is the number one risk faced by many Namibian dryland (rain fed) crop producers of staple food crops, such as white maize and pearl millet which are cultivated under a rain fed production system. Currently, about 50% of Namibia’s white maize production comes from irrigated production, while 100% of Namibia’s pearl millet production comes from rain fed production.

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