EPHRAIM Nekongo needs no introduction in political circles. As a staunch ruling Swapo party leader, he has been at the forefront of various party and country developments for years. There is, however, another side to the budding politician that many might not be familiar with; he is an enterprise farmer, and has excelled well in this sector. Nekongo’s farming acumen led him to craft a unique blend of farming for himself, successfully integrating various modes of farming into a perfect basket of plenty.
While his main two farming modes involved piggery and horticulture production, he also ventured into orchard production, poultry and the untapped aquaculture sector to complete his diversified farming operations. It is, therefore, no surprise to return from one of Nekongo’s production hubs with a basket of products as diversified as eggs, tomatoes, fish and fresh pork chops – all from the same source. But it has not always been as easy as it appears, he recalled. His first mode of agribusiness some 15 years ago involved a trial run of conservation agriculture, which involved him planting vegetables in plastic bags for the market.
The initiative would, however, not take off, despite him running from pillar to post and knocking on many doors for a glimpse of an investment that would see him maximise his production. “I visited various schools and other community projects with this initiative as they were my primary market. But in earnest, I yearned for an investment that would allow me to produce more as I badly needed capital,” he said.
Nekongo’s persistence finally paid off some months later when he landed a client who ordered large quantities of his produce. At the time, he did not have the number of produce to satisfy the order, but he remained determined to fulfil the order nonetheless. “I did not tell him that I only had a limited supply due to low starting capital. I, however, told him that we require a 50% upfront payment for the order as a company rule. He paid the amount, and I ran around securing the order by getting more produce with the money we were given. That’s how it all started,” he explained.
A few years down the line, Nekongo has successfully set up a fledgling poultry enterprise at Eenhana in the Ohangwena region, which concentrates on both egg and broiler production. At first, he only sold the chickens, which turned out to be costly in rearing them due to high feed costs, amongst others. That was when he switched to layers and added broilers to the mix for meat, which he said is in high demand in the region. It is also at Eenhana where the piggery enterprise was started.
The piggery business has seen an astronomical growth, which led him to slaughter 50 pigs during 2021 for the market. Nekongo has also managed to test the waters with a branch-out to aquaculture, or freshwater fish farming, as it is often referred to. He has been farming with the Tilapia – a freshwater fish – in Ongwediva for the past few years.
“It is amazing how much potential lies in aquaculture. This industry is largely untapped, but holds massive potential for those who dare invest in it. The last harvest we had gave us about 10 tonnes of fish, which was even already paid for before they were harvested,” he observed. The last addition to his fledgling agribusiness is the large-scale horticulture production and animal husbandry, which is hosted on a commercial farm in the Khomas region. This, along with his fruit orchard, completes his farming package.
Nekongo said his travelling exposed him to different agricultural practices that those beyond Namibian borders are involved in. This gave him an opportunity to learn from them, and export the skills and knowledge to his products back home. “In China, they plant on their roofs and have retail businesses of their products in the basements of their houses, which are built on high hills. This is where the idea for conservation agriculture came from. With some few adjustments to the Namibian situation, it worked,” he noted.
Nekongo said mixed or diversified farming also has its off-days, and a farmer must always be prepared for such eventualities. “Retailers like to squeeze us on prices because we are competing with South Africa. Also, we have a high cost of production, which involves pesticides, feeds, licks and others. We need to strike a balance and find innovative approaches to our farming in order to beat these odds,” he continued. Through his agribusiness, he employs 35 people – 20 in the north and about 15 in the Khomas region. “Agriculture can defeat all odds. It can boost the economy, alleviate poverty and still put food on our tables. All that is needed is political will to invest more and prioritise the sector, and people who understand what is expected from them,” he said.