• April 9th, 2020

Farm Shalom thrives in the desert

WINDHOEK - The stretch of land east of Swakopmund is vast, extremely arid and it appears lifeless but in the Namib Desert where one would not have expected an agronomic venture is where Farm Shalom thrives, growing a variety of veggies such as peppers, spinach and different types of flowers.

Most of the desert wildlife consists of arthropods and other small animals that live on very little water although this desert that stretches all the way to northern Namibia is inhabited by larger animals in the northern part of Namibia where its vast expanse stretches all the way to Angola.

Namibia is the driest sub-Saharan country and is the most severely affected by climate change, with rising temperatures, rainfall variability and increased droughts and severe flooding but AvaGro grows flowers and vegetables on a commercial basis in the Namib Desert.

The head of agronomist at AvaGro Ranjit Patil told New Era upon enquiry that the eight-hectare Shalom farm located 10 kilometres outside Swakopmund on the banks of the Swakop River has 27 greenhouses “where we grow cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.”

On this piece of land turned into farmland in the oldest desert in the world, Patil and his team the majority of whom are Namibians employed as salaried workers, also grow roses and gerberas, beetroot, eggplant, herbs and spinach ‘’using open field cultivation.”

“We use high tech agriculture as climate change threatens traditional farming methods. These high-tech agriculture methods are tried and tested in India and we are replicating success here in Namibia. This involves setting up greenhouses to create a controlled environment and use of hydroponic methods like the growing media, cocopeat. Cocopeat has high water holding capacity, is heat stabilising and has high levels of porosity, which makes it ideal for farming in challenging environmental conditions,” narrated the head agronomist who holds a Master’s degree in agriculture.

“We also use soil optimisation methods for the crops we cultivate in the open, by adding manure and grass to the soil,” Patil further elaborated when queried how they have managed to utilise the desert into productive land.

“Namibia is the driest sub-Saharan country and is most severely affected by climate change, with rising temperatures, rainfall variability and increased droughts and floods. The desert soil causes limited fertility and irrigation, requires highly capital-intensive methods of production and reduces crop production,” he said in response to a question from this newspaper.

“Climate-adapted cultivation methods are needed to secure sufficient food availability in the country. High-tech agriculture with media cultivation (cocopeat) is an effective solution to overcome challenges of soil through greenhouse efficiencies. Since in India we have similar climatic conditions so it’s a win -win situation to share our expert skills with fellow Namibians,” says an upbeat Patil. 

The Indian company bought the plot in 2015 and set up its first greenhouses in 2016 and 97 percent of its staff compliment of 30 employees are Namibian creating much-needed jobs for locals.
On the challenges faced he says, “climate is a key challenge that we address with precision agriculture. We address the challenge of skill through customised training programmes,” and the company uses a hydroponic system, cocopeat, to optimise growth to offset water scarcity.

Productive-wise “We harvest six tonnes of tomatoes, three tonnes of peppers and 10,000 pieces of cucumber per greenhouse (350 square metre) per season (comprising six months). We have two seasons per year and harvest on a regular basis,” says the head of agronomist at Shalom Farm.

“We work with smallholder farmers, agri-preneurs and established medium and large-scale cultivators to develop bespoke production plans to advance food sovereignty. In terms of market access, we have off-take agreements with local wholesalers and retailers,” he said on market access.

“At Shalom, we’re contributing to the shift from traditional farming to precision agriculture. This involves applying efficient water-use systems, augmenting the soil and using hydroponic mediums to grow crops. At Shalom, we are showing what is possible with the right mix of determination, technology and skills. If we can foster sustainable agriculture in the desert, where constraints – water, soil and climate – are amplified; we can do it anywhere,” he said.

Staff Reporter
2019-07-01 09:19:21 | 9 months ago

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