By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibians will be left behind if they do not soon realise the potential of the Hoodia industry and start growing the succulent plant now. Although a project to encourage communities to start growing the plant has been running for at least two-and-a-half years, only a few people and groups have seen the need to cultivate the plant. Hoodia is a multi-billion-dollar industry whose growth is rising by the day due to the plant’s appetite suppressing properties, ideal in treating obesity. The coordinator of the Succulent Cultivation Project under the auspices of the Hoodia Working Group – which is a government mandated body – Steve Carr, told New Era recently that opportunities abound and that people should investigate the internal reasons why they are not cultivating the plant yet. “The opportunities are there but … not forever, because others would have grabbed them,” he said. “It takes about three years for the plant to be harvested and people need to get involved now. Time is ticking away, the opportunities are there,” he stressed. Although the country needs tens of thousands of seedlings for the industry to get off the ground, only a few thousand have been planted so far. “We need lots and lots more,” he said, adding that the opportunity also exists for people to grow seedlings to sell locally. If cultivation had started earlier on, Carr said, there would have been lots of seedlings by now. Namibia is organising growers to take advantage of the resource – that mostly grows wild in the country – but in a regulated manner. Carr said for Namibia to derive maximum benefits from it, it has to set up a system where the material that leaves Namibia is a product that is sustainably grown. The challenge is however to get people involved now for them to take advantage of the existing market. Growing Hoodia is also seen as an opportunity that would lift any people, especially in rural areas in the south of Namibia, out of poverty. In this case, the target groups, apart from big commercial farmers, are resettled farmers, conservancies and community groups. Ambitious as it may seem, the project is looking at getting 600 households involved in the project. “We want to ensure that people work with the right material, create a network and pull production together. Then it will make more economic sense,” said Carr. He added that the project aims at getting Hoodia growers to form groups and a growers’ association for the proper marketing of the product. Other challenges that face the project are the difficulties experienced in getting seeds, as most plants especially in the wild have dried up. There is also a lack of know-how, even amongst those that have the seedlings. The coordinator added that this was partly the reason why some people are sitting without planting enough seeds. So far, the project has facilitated a national process and raised awareness of Hoodia especially in conservancies. It has also procured propagation material and distributed seeds to people for them to plant. Growing Hoodia is also being seen as one of the ways in which Namibia will lower its unemployment rate, reduce poverty and achieve economic development. The project will engage in enrichment growing, which involves planting back a certain percentage of seedlings into the area. Carr said the project has achieved more in rural areas even though there have been delays in planting the succulent plant, and given the assurance that the market will be sustainable, the opportunity for people to benefit from the natural resource still exists.
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