KEETMANSHOOP - The country’s grape producers along the Orange River in the //Karas region say the harvest is resilient, with volumes stabilising despite the country experiencing a persistently stubborn drought for the past six years.
Noordoewer Sonop Agro Producers – Makalane Grapes director Nico van der Merwe told Farmers Forum they are still producing grapes despite the drought – given that their farms are situated in a semi-dessert area.
Van der Merwe said this in response to questions sent to him on the current stance of the grape industry.
“As long as the Orange River catchment area is receiving good rain, then we are fine to survive this season,” van der Merwe said.
Referring to the expected yield of harvesting for this season, van der Merwe told this reporter they envisage to produce 7.3 million cartons of top-quality grapes weighing 4.5kg each.
He further emphasised that the first grapes for this season were harvested during mid-October this year, whilst the first consignment was exported to the European Union markets during the second week last month.
Van der Merwe then elaborated that the decline in water levels of the Orange River is becoming a huge concern for them, since they heavily depend on water being pumped to the farms from the river.
“We (Namibia Grape Growers Association) are, however, working closely with the agricultural ministry to monitor the levels and communicate pro-actively,” said van der Merwe.
When probed on the previous living conditions of workers living in reed houses with no ablution facilities, van der Merwe responded there is a slight improvement in the living condition of the workers, but that it is still far from the desired standards.
“The problem of a lack of sanitation and housing for these workers have furthermore been addressed accordingly and negotiations for the construction of houses are underway,” van der Merwe concluded.
Also speaking to Farmers Forum, Aussenkehr Nam Grape Company general manager Gideon Nuunyango opined the drought did not affect production at all but rather brought many people to Aussenkehr, looking for a job.
“We started harvesting on 5 November this year; thanks to favourable climate conditions, whilst the first consignment of grapes has been exported to markets in Europe and the United Kingdom towards the end of November,” he said.
Nuunyango then explained they envisage to produce 1.6 million cartons of top-quality grapes weighing 4.5kg each.
In terms of markets, Nuunyango explained although there is new market, they are busy with negotiations to enter the Chinese market.
He then emphasised the water condition is still stable, as the Orange River has not yet run dry.
The manager continued by stating that the standard of living of workers has not improved much, but that they are busy putting up water infrastructure at their living places by means of pre-paid water points.
“The main pipeline is already completed and people will have access to clean drinking water, hopefully, by January 2020,” he said.
On the issue of lack of housing for workers, Nuunyango explained not much was done, but that companies, at least, started building houses for their people on private land.
“Sanitation remains a problem – and from our side, we are planning to erect containers with toilets possibly next year, pending the approval from the landlord of the erven on which workers reside,” he concluded.
By Steven Klukowski