State orchards left to die

Fifty-six state orchards in the northern regions were abandoned towards the end of last year when the agriculture ministry dismissed the people taking care of them.

07 January 2019 | Agriculture

The ministry of agriculture, water and forestry has terminated the contracts of about 200 workers at 56 state orchards in the north.

The dismissals toward the end of last year resulted in the trees being neglected and stripped of fruit by local people. Only a year ago, the agriculture ministry was satisfied with the progress made by its tree-planting project that was launched in 2003 and was creating hundreds of jobs. The project's objective was to plant fruit trees on a trial basis to assess their viability in open grasslands in the Ohangwena, Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto regions.

In November 2017, agriculture permanent secretary Percy Misika said 56 orchards had been established, covering 364 hectares. These trees generated an income of N$120 400 in the 2016/17 financial year, up from N$65 993 in the previous financial year.





When contacted for comment on the current situation, the agriculture ministry did not respond to questions sent to them.

A source told Namibian Sun that most of the workers loved their work and had been involved in the orchards from the beginning, but to their surprise toward the end of last year, they were informed that their services were no longer needed.

“When they made this announcement we were busy at our orchards preparing fruit trees for harvesting season. They did not make any arrangement for anybody to take over our responsibilities, which resulted in trees not bearing good fruit and these were taken by community members,” a source said.

“Due to high temperatures we later saw trees dying. It was so painful to us because we had worked so hard to make those orchards what they are.”

The source said they were not informed why their contracts were terminated.

Earlier, Misika had told Namibian Sun that in 2001 founding president Sam Nujoma had directed that the saline grasslands in these regions, known locally as 'ombuga', should be planted with appropriate tree species in order to increase tree cover in this semi-arid environment which has been traditionally used for grazing.



“The tree planting is progressing well even though the trees are reliant on regular watering and good rainfall. Over the past 15 years several orchards and woodlots were successfully established.



“Tree-planting activities have increased forest and vegetation cover, have produced fruit for consumption and generated government revenue,” Misika said at the time.



In 2014/15, 13 tonnes of mangoes, four tonnes of guavas, 1.5 tonnes of lemons and 0.24 tonnes of oranges were produced, which generated N$89 423.



During 2015/16, 10 tonnes of mangoes, 0.72 tonnes of guavas, three tonnes of lemons and 0.6 tonnes of oranges were produced and N$65 993 was generated.



In 2016/17 they harvested 17.3 tonnes of mangoes, two tonnes of guavas, 5.2 tonnes of lemons and 0.73 tonnes of oranges, generating N$120 405.



This year the ministry did not harvest anything, despite Misika promising that his ministry would continue promoting tree planting in many parts of the country.



He said the ministry would develop management plans for the state orchards and planned to enter into partnerships with other institutions such as AMTA for selling and processing the fruit.



He added that the ministry was also considering entering into public-private partnerships to manage the orchards.



Lemon, mango and guava trees are suitable for the area but frost and a lack of water are limiting factors. Mangoes seem to have the best local market in northern Namibia.

ILENI NANDJATO

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