The first steps towards a Namibian Circular Bio Based Economy. Part 7


Agriculture – Namibian Horticulture focus

The solution to our economic problems have been with us all along and it’s really simple.

Agriculture should be the backbone of all economies and the backbone of our energy and water needs as is so successfully demonstrated by European countries. Our Namibian Government knows this and have put many strategies and efforts into place to make it happen, however the combining factor which is the Circular Bio Based Economy has been omitted. By linking all the efforts towards this economic model, economies of scale and coordinated activities will drive the change needed.

The way of looking at this solution is to determine what is needed now and how can it be scaled as requirements change.

Agriculture is the number one user of resources and number one polluter on earth. This situation is at the core of enabling a sustainable, renewable and financially able model for Namibia as being demonstrated throughout the world.

Namibia, has vast accessible land, it’s bordered by the Atlantic ocean and is blessed with year round sunshine. Each of our regions have areas where communal farming land is available for upcoming farmers and growers, so there there is an abundance of opportunity for all. It is estimated that more than 40% of Namibians are engaged in agriculture activities full time.

The Community, small to medium business solution:

One of the areas we focussed on was to develop an Namibianized Hydroponic systems and solutions that can be operated anywhere in Namibia, using the absolute minimum of resources, while producing fresh produce for food and or job creation. 

Enabling these technologies at low cost and with dependable yields was the challenge and this have been successfully overcome.

There are various models to choose from, taking into account who the groups are, what their vision is regarding being sustainable growers or shareholders in their own company to produce and distribute selected crops. 

Nothing should be available for free and all the activities are to be self funded with the benefit of receiving training and ensuring access to a market for the produce. 

Additional options are for the establishment of growers networks, once the minimum standards are in place.

Creating wealth is hard work over a long period that requires patients and team work and these skills can be taught and managed once entrepreneurs take ownership of their futures. By training, re-training and making the growers build there own operation it will ensure that these communities will benefit from having practical experience in growing, building and maintenance. Depending on the size and market for a operation, these communities or operators will have access to funds to develop new businesses or ensuring social benefits for their local groups.

The same technology can be used in draught disaster situations to feed people and animals and ensure water management practises.

This ownership model can be applied on a National level, giving each Namibian ownership and profit share opportunities in these units as a owner, investor or share holder. Future Namibians will inherit running concerns and with the right mind set and structure this continuity can be managed to ensure generations of self sufficient producers in Namibia.

The model will work on a Centralised (Grid connected) and Decentralised application, depending on scale and crop type. With far distances between towns and communities of which many are small in Namibia, the required transmission lines and capital expenditure with a extremely low rate of return for the Utility company can be overcome with the Decentralised model. The technology solutions can add value to the surrounding village or community in the supply of electricity and water from the growing operation.

Where Infrastructure is available and location, land size and investment is available a Centralised farming unit can successfully be set up. It is always advised that back up systems are available for centralised applications as untimely power outages can be detrimental to a grow cycle.

The first practical steps to evaluate whether produce growing can be feasible at a specific location:

1. Access to water and preferably a sustainable source

2. Access to land large enough for the specific output and suitable for application. Soil crops versus hydroponic crops.

3. Access to labour during the building phase and operational phase.

4. Access to funds to develop and operate the unit or units.

A unit is a Agricultural farm with Greenhouses and/or open field activities, it has a water purification facility(mostly required in Namibia) to produce water fit for purpose (agriculture or potable) and comes with a solar power generation plant.

These plants can supply electricity for the agriculture unit as well as local communities as mentioned earlier and where scale allows with storage.

When its a small rural unit, the agricultural part will supply food to the local community while creating a few sustainable and needed jobs while educating with the learn while doing teaching model. This way the knowledge and skills will organically spread throughout the country.

The power generation plant is totally reliant on the sun for its operations. Combined with Battery Energy Storage it can supply power in day and night time. The technology that’s applicable for each business unit will be different depending on scale and produce type.

The utopian idea as the business develops and is managed well is that this unit can act as an industrial hub for future industry, all powered by the sun, which can lead to green communities/towns. Charging local electric vehicles by way of this renewable energy method means zero emissions in energy production and in the actual driving of the vehicle.

The average time to construct a medium sized site is six months and it employs people with varied levels of skills. It is ideally suited for women wanting to go into business.

There are enough arable land and water available in Namibia for crops needed in the food industry (wheat, corn etc.) There are some logistic issues, however given the location of the land it is an issue that will be managed.

When dealing with perishable fresh produce the start is to utilise land that is unsuitable for any other use. Using arable land for soil crops in a sustainable way. With Hydroponic grow operations that are located as close to market as possible on unused un-arable land it will ensure quality food, shorter logistics chains and lower costs while not taking up space for other required land uses.

Afritree’s Sustainable Hydroponic Model:

  1. Support mainly local suppliers
  2. Not priority to own land
  3. Is scalable: Urban to mega farm
  4. Is adaptable to different crops
  5. Is able to accept Aquaponics into the system (Weather dependent)
  6. Is profitable
  7. Is sustainable and accept renewables
  8. Create Namibian jobs
  9. Offers Training  
  10. 10.Does not require any arable soil, can be done anywhere!

Large Scale Greenhouses

Afritree completed a three year research project to experience at first hand how weather, economy, local market trends, labour and crop types all worked together in this unique desert area. We determined best practise for the crop types that will work with specific systems in the desert areas of Namibia. These grow systems will work in any Namibian micro climate to produce similar crops by utilising the technologies identified.

There are tremendous opportunities available for any Namibian willing to invest and work in Agriculture and Horticulture. The caveat is that technology and best practise needs to be followed without which all efforts will account to zero.

The use of greenhouse technology needs to be promoted in Namibia. Afritree has made it one if its goals to introduce and develop the greenhouse industry. Previous objections against Greenhouses that were based on high set up and operational costs are now no longer valid as the higher price of importing produce and efficient growing methods are making a strong business case. Growers are not farmers. Horticulturists don’t focus on animals, the same way farmers who are involved in animal husbandry should focus on their sector. The biggest mistake growers and farmers make is that off being bigger brings more income, which could not being further form the truth. Being lean and mean and totally focussed on specific production is what enables success.

As an example, as a grower it is sometimes better to grow four cycles a year and not push for five cycles. Its all about looking at the market, labour & available resources, in a sense managing your risks vs reward and how these actions will impact the following years planning. Our Horticulture systems operate and produce 365 days a year and enables precise planning and higher yields possible in the field, while using less water and other resources.

Our work will have an affect on greening the Namibian coast and desert with plantations of trees, grasses and shrubs.

It is no longer the size of the farm land that counts! Its the productivity and integrated approach that ensures successful produce production.

Waste streams

The common denominator of all agricultural activities that will drive the Bio Economy is waste. How we source, manage and provide value add to waste streams is key in establishing new and exciting business units. It is important to note that waste generally is not recycled and end up as compost or landfill when managed. Other non managed waste streams end up in the ocean, rivers and on land. Clearly disposing of products that can be used for second life products should be stopped.

Gas as an example: is an un-utilised by product in Namibia. With natural animal and bio mass waste the use of Anaerobic digestion should be encouraged to be produce bio gas used for heating, cooling, industry or cooking.

Fertiliser, Minerals, Compost, Food, Energy, Water, Fabrics, Packaging, Pharma, Bio Polymer ,Beauty products are all by products of waste streams that are viable in a Bio economy.

Waste streams are also applicable to water brine and reclaiming minerals, salts and compostable materials are part of a zero discharge future.

The new technology that needs to be phased in is Energy from Waste, whereby landfill sites can be “cleaned” for energy production. This together with recycling, value add and less waste generation from operations will eventually lead to a zero waste situation, and that is the doable game changer for now and future generations.

Agriculture is key to enabling these technologies in order to drive the circular bio economy model.

by Willem Baartman

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