Namibia to upscale rice production at flagship project

Plans are in motion to upscale rice production at Namibia’s flagship Kalimbeza Green Scheme Irrigation Project in Zambezi region, project manager Patrick Kompeli said Friday.

“Our target is to expand the project to 150 hectares. This would be a major shift from farming on 50 hectares of land in 2014 and on a sizeable 75 hectares up to 2015,” he said.

The impetus to revive the project, said Kompeli, follows additional technical and agricultural mechanization aid from China after an extension of the South-South Cooperation agreement between the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and Namibia.

The first phase of the two-year agreement hailed for its success, was extended until the end of December 2017.

“Going forward, our approach is geared towards sustainable rice production and increased output,” said Kompeli.

Chinese agricultural expert Deng Zhengrui who was deployed at the project as part of the extension said the project would be pushed ahead by developing resilient rice varieties and mechanization.

“In 2015, the project recorded a harvest of 120 tonnes. Thus, the target is to increase yields by two tonnes per hectare. Therefore, we built capacity as well as focused on skills and technology transfer to ensure progress,” Deng said.

The accomplishment marked a contrast of the once stagnant state of the project years back, when it faced a myriad of challenges.

According to Kompeli, for years, the project had a deficit of technical expertise in rice production. The Chinese help was therefore instrumental in project revitalization.

“The Chinese experts assisted with research, seed production, mechanization, multiplication and all activities related to rice production. Before that, rice production and all processes were done manually but now have been mechanized. This accelerated progress and increased yields,” said Kompeli.

Today, following commercialization of Kalimbeza rice in 2014, the project supplies an average 150 kg of rice a month to local shops.

“Kalimbeza rice has a natural taste since it is not parboiled like many other rice products on the market,” said customer Jacob Hamutenya.

At a local supermarket, Hamutenya part with cash for Kalimbeza rice packages. What makes his purchase unique is the fact that the rice is the the only locally produced rice product on the shelf.

The Chinese community are also actively buying the rice, often directly from Kalimbeza Rice Project, said Kompeli.

Other local retailers have also shown interest and signed an agreement to start selling Kalimbeza rice.

Despite the progress, challenges persist. About 15 hectares of the previous year’s plantation was lost to weeds and birds this year alone.

“It is difficult to control the weeds, especially the stubborn Cyprus Escalares. However, we apply herbicide to control it. We also recruit people from the community to scare off the birds,” Kompeli said.

“This will not hold us back,” said Kompeli.

In the long term, Kompeli said the project will continue to conduct research and maximize on technology to boost rice production.

Moreover, to further improve the project, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is set to signed between Namibia and China on the South-South Cooperation next week.

“The MoU will serve as a guiding framework for the implementation of the second phase of the South-South Cooperation project in Namibia,” said Regina Valombola, Public Relations Officer in Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.

Kalimbeza rice project was started after Namibia’s independence in 1990, with actual planting of rice done in 2001 on 36 hectares of land. The project was also transformed by the University of Namibia between 2007 and 2010. Enditem