By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The Kavango Region is set to become the major “fruit and vegetable basket” of Namibia with the development of a major pineapple production and processing project worth over N$100-million. As part of the country’s green scheme project, the successful harvesting of over 1 000 pineapples at Bagani Gardens last December has opened doors for ordinary Namibians to produce their own food and depend less on South African imports. The idea of pineapple production and processing in Namibia started three years ago when agricultural consultant Philip de Wet and his partner Israel Jona discussed projects that would lift rural people out of poverty in the Kavango. After four years of thorough research and a pre-feasibility study, De Wet suggested the production of pineapples as well as setting up a canning factory that would ultimately serve the region and the country as a whole. De Wet, who runs an agricultural consultancy, says the feasibility study has shown that pineapple farming in Namibia is viable as it is an all-year-round fruit, unlike most other crops grown in the north. “The main advantage in pineapple farming is that the pineapples can be planted from 1st January every day of the year till 31st December. The fact that pineapples can be planted throughout the year and then harvested every day of the year brings about opportunities that other agricultural crops cannot provide,” said De Wet. “If you farm with pineapples, you’ll be busy the whole year and you’ll have no problems because you’ll be keeping your labour force and production busy,” he added. When asked why the Kavango was chosen for this kind of agricultural production, De Wet said based on data obtained from the meteorological service, it turns out that pineapples are unable to grow well in cold, frosty weather conditions and thus the between 1 000-2 000 hectares piece of land along the river between Rundu and Divundu seems suitable for this kind of farming. “The pineapple is sensitive to temperatures under freezing point which could have a harmful effect on the fruit. These low temperatures were found in areas west of Rundu towards Etundu,” said De Wet, adding that the sandy soil next to the Okavango River also has good drainage ability for these fruits to grow properly. Re-planting is easy as the top of the pineapple crowns are used as “kinds of seed” for this purpose, thus not requiring seeds now and then. Although finances to start the project were a challenge, several government institutions like Agribank and several international financiers have chipped in to aid the project that falls under the green scheme plan. “Agribank will finance it with the green scheme and the total amount of money is more than N$100-million that is needed,” added De Wet. With the first harvest trials of 1 000 pineapple plants at Bagani Gardens, which is the research station for the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, there are plans for local subsistence farmers who will work on this pineapple farm to later branch out and grow their own agricultural projects with other crops/products. “Back on their own farm, they will have the choice to farm with not only pineapples, but also tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, sunflowers, peanuts, guavas, citrus and sub-tropical fruits. The factory will provide a market to all of these products,” said De Wet. The pineapple project proposes the establishment of three commercial pineapple farms under irrigation in the Kavango. It is anticipated that it will provide jobs to 140 locals, half of them women. What is notable is that for the first time in Namibia there will be a cannery to process the fruit and vegetables. “This cannery will become a new market for 400-plus small-scale farmers producing various agricultural products to reduce poverty on and off farms to a great extent,” he said. It is envisaged that the factory will receive 21 000 tons of pineapples per year during the start-up years from the three commercial farms. It will have a cannery and juice-making division, where its products can be sold locally and exported internationally.