Situated ideally right below the Naute Dam, which has the fullest capacity in the country, the Naute Irrigation Project does not only export exotic fruits but also provides much-needed employment for residents struggling with the uphill challenge of poverty in the //Kharas region. There are currently over 430 hectares of land under irrigation, most of it utilised for growing grapes and dates.
When New Era engaged Simon Akwenye, acting head at the irrigation project, he said physical development activities at the project commenced during 1990 whilst the first date palms were planted in 1991.
“The primary objective of this project was to establish a commercial agriculture project at the Naute Dam,’’ he explained. Akwenye continued that cultivars harvested at Naute include grapes, dates, pomegranates and prickly pears. He said the types of grapes include red seedless (flame and crimson), white seedless (early sweet and prime) and black seedless (melody).
“We are also harvesting dry dates (medjool, lulu, genesi, khalas) and the fresh variety, called bahree,’’ said Akwenye. They also harvest a variety of pomegranates, namely wonderful, acco and 116 and are also growing gymno carpo and Algerian prickly pears but all of these are still at the testing phase.
‘’In terms of grapes, the seedless variety is of higher quality whilst dry medjool dates have a higher quality than the other types,’’ the acting project head explained.
Akwenye said one of the biggest challenges experienced so far was that more people have to be employed to work in shifts in order to maintain social distancing required by Covid-19 health protocols. He noted that this places an additional financial burden on the project.
“We also experienced a delay in the delivery of critical inputs and essential services during the national lockdown in the country, which led to poor fruit quality at times,’’ he added.
On a positive note, he said no employees have been retrenched for whatever reasons.
He continued that nature and weather conditions also have a significant influence in terms of crop production, saying: “Heavy rains can negatively influence the quality of chemicals applied to grape seedlings whilst thunderous weather accompanied by lightning places a risk on the safety of employees working high in the air at date plantations.’’ He added that these factors coupled with fluctuating temperatures mean that employees can only work at certain times during the day, which impacts productivity.
Akwenye added that another 20 hectares will be placed under irrigation for grapes production in due course, as the needed infrastructure is already in place.
‘’Further expansion of the entire project with diversified crops will also follow after consultation and approval by shareholders,’’ Akwenye stated. A total of 150 000 cartons of grapes weighing 4.5kg each are projected to be exported from the project this season whilst 430 tons of dates are destined as per projections for export purposes. It is estimated that dates exports can generate some N$20 million whilst grapes can bring in N$10 million in foreign currency. Approximately 10% of these products are absorbed in the local market.
Grapes are destined for markets in Europe, the Far East and Africa whilst dates are exported predominantly to Middle East markets. The grape season stretches from November to January whilst dates grow from February to May.
Fruit products found not to be suitable for export purposes are used for value addition at the Naute Kristall Cellar and Distillery where alcoholic gins and liquors are produced.
The Naute Irrigation Project employs 62 permanent staff based on site in brick and mortar houses with proper access to clean drinking water, ablution facilities and electricity. Currently, there are approximately 300 seasonal workers at the project, which increases to about 600 as harvesting commences.
The Naute project is 100% Namibian-owned, resorting under the Namibia Industrial Development Agency (NIDA).