OTAVI – Former minister of health Dr Richard Kamwi is a man of multiple tasks. After the health portfolio, Kamwi currently serves on the steering committee for the African task force on Covid-19; he serves as ambassador for Malaria Elimination 8 (E8), constituting four mainland countries, namely: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland).
Middle to high malaria transmission countries to the north is Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe in E8, an initiative to eliminate malaria.
As a malariologist, he advises these eight on coherent malaria elimination strategies.
Kamwi is also a staff member of the University of California, Berkeley in the USA.
The AU commissioner for social affairs appointed him as one of its members of the steering committee on the AU Task Force on Covid-19. Besides such a taxing workload, Kamwi is a cattle and maize farmer on a sprawling, piece of virgin land that cost N$8 million, acquired through an Agribank loan in the famed Maize Triangle in the Otavi area, where he has taken to farming like a duck to water. When New Era caught up with him on the holding, where he is involved in mixed farming, which includes breeding Bonsmara, a cattle breed known for high-quality beef and is highly resistant to disease.
When this journalist caught up with him one recent Saturday weekend at Farm Rimini, baptised after a northern Italian town by its previous white owner, he was hands-on supervising workers in mechanised maize harvest cutting and separating grain from the row-upon-rows of maize stalk ready for yield.
During the interview, he praised Michael Iyambo, a prosperous farmer based in the Tsintsabis area and Dr Fidelis Nyambe Mwazi, an agronomist serving as the CEO of the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) for having advised him on the nitty-gritties of maize and cattle farming. Before we delve further, Kamwi praised “my hero and heroine”, his late father Kamwi Nchabi, as well as his late mother Nsala Sikunyana, who played bigger roles in equal measure to inculcate the values of farming in a youthful lad while he was growing up in the former Caprivi region.
When asked to share with New Era readers about his farm, he candidly said: “I moved in here seven years ago – no say six years ago because this will be the seventh year. When we came to Farm Rimini, there was nothing in terms of logistics. Fencing it was completely down. In fact, whatever was left of this farm was gutted by fire; there was really nothing.”
Though the farmstead was acquired for N$8 million, it gobbled another N$400 000 because Kamwi was compelled to go for maintenance and rehabilitating the farm that was ravaged by a monstrous blaze that burnt everything in its wake. Restoration of the farmstead involved fencing, which involved two black-owned entities. “After fencing it, there was the issue of water: there were only four boreholes working here. But as we speak, we now have six boreholes. The four were diesel-operated; then in the second… third year, I decided to change to solar because diesel was expensive. As I learnt from the neighbours – mainly whites, I decided to switch over to solar. As we speak, we have six boreholes, functioning on solar systems.”
Other challenges he faced were successive droughts that forced him to feed his commercial Bonsmara breed from his pocket, while the cost of maize is costly.
A 20 kg bag of maize, enough for two hectares, costs around N$3 000 a bag. He also has a lot of overheads, such as paying his workers to government gazetted wages, which double on Sundays. “In terms of accommodation, you can see where I am (laughs heartily); this just a matchbox,” in reference to a decent dwelling that boosts the modern amenities, including WiFi. It has running water and all its electrical appliances are powered by solar panels, mounted atop the farmhouse.
Despite the fact that water is only sufficient for cattle, and government not providing the know-how to upcoming farmers in commercial areas, the former health minister is optimistic Namibian farmers can feed the nation and reduce food imports from neighbouring countries.
As he went about harvesting, Kamwi projects a yield of 100 tonnes of maize, despite the fact the rainy season had a bit of dry spell, which caused moments of anxiety on Farm Rimini.
“Mind you, I only received assistance for one day on how to calibrate the two-row planter. No one assisted me on how to use the fertiliser (correctly). I think, if government was to come on board to assist the upcoming farmers, we would go a long way to feed this nation,” suggests Kamwi.
“What you have seen now from one black farmer, can you imagine if we can have five to ten producing this much. You go to Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi, the majority of those who are giving real production are white farmers,” noted Kamwi, who wants to go full-time in due course and will not renew all his well-paying contracts.
“There is need for us to consider moving on not sticking in parliament until death does us part – no … no. We have these youths; they must take over from us,” he said, urging youth to take over politics.
He says there is money in farming and that unlike mines that get depleted, farmland does not get exhausted but keep on producing.