To some, prison is the end of the road. To others, it is punishment. To others still, it is a second chance at life – redemption.
The Namibia Correctional Service (NSC) continues to run successful production farms, while other government initiatives, such as green schemes, have failed to reach their full potential.
While the country’s 11 green schemes have little to show for the N$500 million pumped into the farms by taxpayers,
the NCS, on the other hand, has a different story to tell.
Over the last three financial years, the NCS pumped N$26.5 million into its farming activities to produce goods, valued at N$58.8 million.
Currently, the correctional service operates six production farms,
producing white maize, wheat, vegetables, fruits, beef, pork and animal fodder.
The farming activities take place at Divundu, Evaristus Shikongo, Hardap, Oluno, Omaruru and Swakopmund correctional services.
This week, New Era sought answers from the NCS on how it is seemingly ploughing ahead on the agricultural front, while others only offer excuses.
“The NCS has managed to keep its production farms running through proper planning of the farming activities, proper management and timely
execution of the planned farming activities,” its spokesperson Michael Mulisa, said.
The service also ensures there is a total commitment by farm managers and proper supervision.
In the face of dwindling public resources, planning and execution of most farming activities are key, he said.
The NCS has also placed the identification of high-yield producing seed varieties and the procurement of appropriate farming inputs, such as fertilisers and chemicals, at the centre of its work.
At the heart of the production is to improve organisational self-sufficiency, reduce government expenditures in the procurement of inmates’ rations and impart practical agricultural skills to offenders.
“Farming activities help inmates change the patterns of behaviour that led to criminal activity by keeping them busy on the farm and imparts practical agricultural skills, such as tractor driving, crop and vegetable production and livestock production.
“These skills will enable them to foster a positive life once they are lawfully released to the community by either becoming self-employed or gaining formal employment,” Mulisa said.
Statistics provided by the NCS show that 189 offenders were involved in farming activities during the second quarter of the current financial year.
Last month, New Era sat down with defence minister Frans Kapofi, who headed the service between 1995 and 1999.
Kapofi is credited with having laid a solid foundation for farming initiatives.
“The prisoners must be able to produce food to feed themselves. The Founding President [Sam Nujoma] wanted me to ensure that our prison services are food self-sufficient. That is why he sent me there. Today, when I look back, I am proud of what they have achieved. I am told they produce their wheat and bread,” exclaimed Kapofi.
Today, not only does the NCS process wheat grains into bread flour to supply to all 14 correctional facilities, equipped with bakeries but white maize grains are also processed into maize meal for the inmates’ consumption.
They also produce ‘Max-A-Meal’, which is a mixture of crushed maize grains, sugar beans and lentils.
Vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, spinach, beetroot, sweet potatoes, butternuts, pumpkins, watermelon, gem squash and onions are supplied to correctional facilities and police stations.
Fruits such as guava, mangos and some citrus varieties are supplied to some correctional facilities.
“On livestock production, the NCS is farming with cattle, sheep, goat and pigs to supply beef, mutton, chevon and pork to NCS inmates and Nampol awaiting trial inmates,” Mulisa added.
Sharing is caring
Apart from producing food for consumption, the surplus is shared with other public entities and destitute members of the community.
The government’s drought relief programme, under the Office of the Prime Minister, has benefitted handsomely over the years.
NCS donated 500 tonnes of maize grains to the drought relief initiative.
As years of famine continued, with devastating droughts forcing farmers to shut kraals and gardens, the NCS again donated 215 tonnes [in 2016] and 600 tonnes of maize grain for drought relief.
A further 200 tonnes of wheat grain was donated in 2016.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, which devastated lives and livelihoods between 2020 and 2021, NCS again chipped in, donating 30 000 kilogrammes of maize meal to the premier’s office for emergency purposes.
More so, NCS regularly donates farm produce, such as maize meal and vegetables, to the government’s school feeding programme, “especially when learners are having holiday classes on request”.
Experts in the agricultural sector now point to the model of the prison as a possible solution to Namibia’s food security question.
The country, blessed with abundant land and water resources, imports around 70% of its food annually.
Sustainable agriculture expert Venomukona Tjiseua said while NCS has a beautiful story to tell, one worthy of emulation, the country’s food security should be taken with the seriousness it warrants as opposed to paying lip service to it.
He said lessons learnt from food shortages, caused by Covid-19 when borders were closed, or the current oil and grain scarcity, driven by the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, cannot be taken for granted.
“Global uncertainties have taught us time and again why countries such as ours have to put food security at the top of their agenda. However, at the end of the day, it is not just about food security but safe quality food to the citizens that are produced in a sustainable manner,” Tjiseua said.
Agreeing was Venaune Hepute, a researcher at the Namibia Agronomic Board, saying food security is of utmost importance in Namibia’s quest to address poverty.
The picture on the ground is bleak.
According to the United Nations, 43% of Namibians live in multidimensional poverty.
Hepute further suggested Namibia gets involved and participates in continental programmes championing sustainable food production systems for indigenous people, and smallholder farmers for food security, nutrition and socioeconomic development for rural communities.
Additionally, Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) lawmaker Maximalliant Katjimune lamented the general lack of investment in agriculture.
“We must start having an appreciation for how difficult farming is and the skills that go into it. We have taken a rhetorical approach that young people should go into farming, but I think we do not appreciate the real complexity of farming. We must invest more in skills training of young black people who want to go into farming and pass on those skills from generation to generation,” Katjimune said yesterday.
Katjimune, alongside other parliamentarians, is conducting parliamentary oversight visits over farms run by the National Youth Service.
It is estimated that 70% of Namibians depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their income and livelihood, including subsistence farmers.
Like many other entities, the NCS is also struggling to make ends meet, despite its successes.
Chiefly, insufficient funds to maintain required inputs, such as fertilisers, chemicals and seeds, and maintain farming implements [tractors and irrigation systems] are some of the challenges threatening the progress of the service.
The NCS is also struggling with a shortage of storage facilities, such as silos to store wheat and maize grains as well as cool rooms for vegetable storage.
“[We also have] inadequate human resources,” said Mulisa.
The challenges, however, have not deterred the ambitious correctional service from looking into the future with optimism.
It will continue to expand its farming activities and introduce new farming techniques “to maximise the production of organisational self-sufficient and contribute to food security in Namibia”.
So far, the NCS was allocated 250 hectares of land at Okaoko-Otavi in Kunene.
The land is earmarked for the production of maize, wheat and vegetables.
The service will also introduce poultry farming at the Evaristus Shikongo Correctional Facility in the Oshikoto region.
The service looks to venture into sunflower production to produce its cooking oil, while the seeds will be used in animal feed processing.
“The NCS will continue to add value to most of its products, such as producing instant porridge and breakfast snacks from maize grain and wheat grain, as well as producing juice and jam from fruit and processing meat into sausages and minced meat,” Mulisa added.