ORANJEMUND - The Namdeb Garden Project started in March 2017 at the Old Nursery in Oranjemund with the objective of establishing the viability of growing fruit and vegetables locally to attract investors to the town.
When Oranjemund was first established, it was very isolated with extremely limited access from outside forcing CDM (now Namdeb) to grow fresh produce locally on farms on the northern banks of the Orange River in South Africa close to Alexander Bay. The farms also supplied most meat and dairy products required whilst the processing of meat and other products was done at the central kitchen facility in Oranjemund. Over time access restrictions and reduced profitability of the farms in South Africa caused the operations to cease.
The Old Nursery was started in 1956 by CDM where a hydroponic section was established to produce vegetables to provide food for the employees of the mine. In 1956 it was arguably regarded as the biggest hydroponic facility in the southern hemisphere. Subsequently it was used to grow seedlings and plants for use in the town but progressively fell into disuse during the last ±10 years. The decision to make use of the facility required some initial preparatory work including cleaning the site, doing repairs to buildings, erecting proper fencing and ground preparations.
With a focus on transformation, Namdeb realised that Oranjemund is a single economy, totally reliant on the mine and that the town could potentially face becoming a ghost town when mining operations cease if something else was not put in place to replace the mine as an economic driver. Various studies have been done over a number of years and tourism and agriculture have been identified as two of the sectors most likely to succeed in transforming the town into sustainability beyond Namdeb. Of the two, agriculture arguably potentially has the biggest impact in terms of the potential amount of jobs to be created through farming but also adding value to the produce.
In addition to traditional irrigation farming, tests are currently also being conducted using a net house and a green house. In addition, a tunnel is currently under construction to test the suitability of growing vegetables in tunnels. It is envisaged to eventually have three tunnels with the capacity to grow 2 100 cucumber plants; 2 100 green pepper plants and 4 000 tomato plants. Three smaller tunnels are currently also being installed to test the viability of growing oyster mushrooms.
At present the project employs three male and three female employees. Future expansions planned for the project will require the compliment to increase to twelve at the existing project with ten additional employees required at the envisaged production pilot unit.
Currently the first grade produce is sold to Spar Oranjemund whilst the second grade produce is donated to local soup kitchen projects and church groups for households in need. With the envisioned expansion planned and the associated increased production volumes, the strategy is to be able to supply as much of the fresh produce demand of Rosh Pinah, Aus and Lüderitz as possible. The ultimate idea is for the development of agriculture around the town, and in the region to validate the establishment of a local value adding facility in order to create additional jobs.
Namdeb is a diamond mining company with limited experience with regard to agriculture. Ettienne de Jager, who is currently running the project, is a fitter and turner by trade and worked as mechanical foreman with Namdeb when he was asked to start the project. He embraced the challenge and had to engage experts in the agricultural industry in both South Africa and Namibia to assist him to get the project going.
The challenges with regard to which fertilisers and feed programmes to use for which produce, as well as the issue of pest control cannot be done on a hit and miss strategy. The cost of quality seeds, fertilisers and chemicals is very high and needs to be done in the correct way which requires hands-on management of the facility in close collaboration with the various industry experts. Farming methods are continuously improved especially with regard to the effective use of water, being a scarce and expensive commodity, but also with regard to which produce are the best suited for the specific area and environment.
The crops currently being tested, are fruit trees, jelly palms, figs, mangos, pomegranates, variety citrus, apples, pears, peaches, bananas, pawpaws, grapes, nuts, plums.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, onions, various pumpkins, asparagus, beetroot, maize, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, carrots, bengals, tomatoes, water melons, sweet melons, strawberries, black and blue berries, green peppers, cucumbers are some of the vegetables grown.