By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Trade and Industry Minister, Immanuel Ngatjizeko, recently expressed concern about reports of some illegal economic activities by unscrupulous foreign traders who exploit the country’s natural resources for the benefit of their own countries. “Such activities stand to undermine the (charcoal) industry and sabotage our economic development agenda,” said Ngatjizeko. He also noted that such illegal exploitation of the country’s resources must be promptly reported to the relevant authorities. He made these remarks when he officiated at the first Namibian Charcoal Industry Congress that was held in Otjiwarango recently. At the same occasion, sentiment was also expressed about negative reports on bad labour conditions within the charcoal sector. “Some workers have been complaining about poor working conditions, low wages and many other incidences of non-adherence to the Labour Act and other relevant laws,” explained Ngatjizeko. Commenting on the same issue, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Petrus Iilonga, said: “It was found that children were also present at the charcoal production area,” adding that teamwork is the key to higher production levels, while looking at the wellbeing of employees. “To use the garment industry as an example, we saw in the past that contracts of millions of Namibian dollars were cancelled because international clients believed that the working conditions of employees were not conducive,” said Iilonga. Thus, much more concerted efforts are needed to address this “undesirable situation” since such reports tarnish the industry’s image and in the long term undermine the efforts to grow the industry at the same time. In light of this, calls were made that the challenge is rather for producers in the charcoal industry to ensure producing quality charcoal in a sustainable manner to increase their gains in trade, reduce bush encroachment, while at the same time ensure that the raw material remains in supply. Charcoal producers should therefore attract inward investment in the sector by forming joint ventures with international partners as the marketers. Generally, the charcoal industry is seen as a vital economic development in terms of job creation, while getting rid of bush encroachment in a sustainable way. Over the years, livestock numbers have been severely affected by bush encroachment. For instance, it is estimated that in communal areas the livelihoods of 65 000 households, and 6 283 farmers and employees in the commercial areas, are negatively affected by this problem, with an economic loss of more than N$700-million per year. Furthermore, bush encroachment (approximately 26 million hectares) reduces the livestock carrying capacity of farmland, which ultimately reduces the number of animals available for slaughter at Meatco. As a result, cattle numbers have decreased in the commercial areas from 2,54 million in 1958 to 1.2 million in 1995, and further went down to 0,86 million in December 2005. “The loss of income for farmers, farm workers, the local economy and the government results in farmers struggling to pay their loans and improve their farming operations,” said Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo, at the same event. Charcoal production has the potential to add 10 000 new jobs. In view of this, Iyambo urged the charcoal producers to continue producing quality charcoal for progressive economic development. Other advantages of bush thinning and charcoal production are that as a resource, bush can be used properly. “If the charcoal industry is regulated, training and inspections can be done to ensure that the correct harvesting methods are used,” added Iyambo. The harvesting and usage of bush products is stipulated in the Forestry act Number 12 of 2001. On a more environmental level, pressure on the ground water table will decrease with fewer bushes using water, which ultimately gets evaporated and less artificial droughts occur. Many affirmative action farmers will be able to service their debts with the extra income from charcoal. So all in all, it is said to be a win-win situation if managed effectively.
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