Massive food project mooted

There are no plans to displace local people and no trees will be chopped down, the project leader says.

15 November 2019 | Agriculture

A family trust that has been involved in missionary work among vulnerable youth, women, and children since the pre-independence years is planning three large-scale agriculture projects on 23 000 hectares in the Zambezi Region.

The African Christian Support Mission Trust expects to raise about US$550 million (about N$7.5 billion) for the ambitious project.

Explaining the rationale of the project, the patriarch of the family trust, 89-year-old Eric Luff, said it was based on the need for food security, and for money to remain in the country, “so that people do not go hungry”.

“If you have to rely on another country for your staple food, you are in trouble,” Luff summed it up.

The trust has already reached an agreement with the Mafwe Traditional Authority for three project locations in the communal areas of Kasheshe (10 000 hectares), Singalamwe (8 000 hectares), and Sachona (5 000 hectares).

The proposal is for the cultivation of vegetables, fodder, and cover crops in summer and winter.

Interested and affected parties (IPAs) were invited to public consultations on the projects on 25 October, and calls were made for IPAs to register and raise their concerns by the end of October.

Luff said the trust had entered into an agreement with the Mafwe Traditional Authority for land-use rights.

Consultations with investors from South Africa, Europe, and Turkey have also reached an advanced stage.

A Namibian Afrikaner, Luff has made his mark in the administrative and political landscape of this country.

He describes himself as the first white Swapo member, as he joined the party in April 1977, “long before Anton Lubowski did”, and has worked in the public sector for 63 years.



The agricultural project

The trust intends to plant two types of rapid-growing Brazil grass, which were identified by a Brazilian specialist as suitable to the conditions in the Zambezi Region.

Luff said he first read about Brazil grass in an advertisement in the Farmer's Weekly magazine many years ago. He found out where to find the seed and ordered it from a representative in South Africa.

He planted the seed at Okahandja, where the church was working in the Five Rand settlement at the time, and two-and-a-half months later the grass stood about one metre tall.

The grass was fed to cows and calves emaciated by drought, and two weeks later their condition had improved considerably, Luff said.

After that, Luff said, the cattle only wanted the Brazil grass and would trample fences to get to it rather than grazing in the veld.

The grass was developed by a Brazilian scientist over a period of about 25 years and Brazil's success in beef production is to a large extent attributed to this grass, Luff said.

The beef market in Brazil has grown so large that its cattle population exceeds its human population and its new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, is even prepared to chop down the rainforest to make way for more grazing for cattle.

For drought-stricken Namibia, though, growing Brazil grass can be a saving grace.



Diversification

The Zambezi project intends to add value to a variety of produce. It intends to keep cows and poultry in feedlots, mainly for the purpose of generating manure as fertiliser and less for the production of meat. They also plan to set up a dairy and a piggery.

An array of subtropical fruits like guava, pawpaw, mango, and avocado will be planted, as well as a long list of vegetables.

Luff says they want the project up and running by the middle of February.

“It is too late to get summer crops but we want to get the grass growing and then of course we can get fruits and vegetables set up,” he said.

Luff said the trust's policy, which was communicated to the Mafwe royalty, is that women will form the backbone of the workforce.

It is anticipated that the project will create 556 permanent jobs and between 3 000 and 5 000 seasonal jobs. The project will be implemented in two phases: the first phase involves land preparation at an estimated cost of N$892 million and the installation of an advanced irrigation system that will cost an additional N$600 million.



No displacement, no cutting down trees

Luff said the giant projects would not displace any of the local population, and neither would any trees be felled to make way for fields.

“No one will be pushed off their land,” he said emphatically.

Importantly, no trees will be removed to make way for the cultivation of Brazil grass.

“I was worried that the foliage of the trees might be too much because the grass needs sun to grow. But the types of grass we will be growing can do so in sunny and shady conditions. They call it the actinic value for photosynthesis,” Luff explained.

“We have no intention to exacerbate deforestation, but we do want to develop that land to its fullest potential,” Luff said.



CATHERINE SASMAN

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