By Chrispin Inambao NOORDOEWER AS part of an innovative crop diversification programme, grape farmer Nicolaas van der Merwe and his wife Marie notched a Namibian first when they exported their first butternut consignment to the United Kingdom (UK) and neighbouring South Africa. Though this is the first yield for this couple that tills a fertile strip of land at Noordoewer along the Orange River, they exported 200 bins each laden with 600 kg of high-quality butternuts. Apart from the UK-bound consignment, they also exported a record 10 000 bags each weighing 10 kg to neighbouring South Africa where demand is high. Although the demand for butternuts on the local market is insignificant, they do not neglect the local market as they make provision and retain a tiny fraction of their produce for Namibia, according to Marie van der Merwe who manages the butternut farm. An ecstatic Marie said this year’s harvest was strictly on a pilot basis that was intended to test both domestic and foreign markets to ascertain how much of this produce could be absorbed by these markets. Meadowfresh, an agent selling farm produce in wholesale quantities, deals with the marketing aspect and sold some of the produce to large fruit and vegetable concerns operating in Durban and Cape Town. Though the first consignment of Namibian butternut was planted to “test” the market, Marie says the demand exceeded her anticipation because traditional butternut producers in South Africa had experienced a bad harvest due to various factors. This year, she only allocated about 10 hectares but due to the high demand, she wants to increase the amount of hectares to between 15 and 20 during the next planting season so that she could meet her growing export quota. In terms of present logistics for the market in the UK the produce is initially transported to a port in neighbouring South Africa where it is eventually shipped overseas. She says the produce ranges in size from 600 grammes to the ones weighing between 1,5 kg and 1,8 kg. The several seasonal and permanent workers employed during the pilot phase earned N$30 a day. Though their take-home pay is above the minimum in the Labour Act, they even pocketed more if they worked over weekends. Butternut that could be used to prepare a variety of appetising meals is good for the body as it contains Vitamin C among a host of other nutrients. Marie, who told New Era she makes a variety of salads from butternuts and that they are also very tasty when stuffed with bacon, onions, among others, says butternuts are as good as carrots in terms of nutritional value. Though their mainstay is grape production, the couple also runs a small dairy from a herd of several Holstein Friesian – a black and white cow bred for its milk. They also have a growing flock of geese that “clean” immaculate rows of grape vines.
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