By Surihe Gaomas
The Salem Irrigation Project is where most of the traditional vegetables commonly known to the Kavango people are grown and harvested.
In fact, it looks like a miniature breadbasket with a hive of activity.
“This is epungu, which is maize in Rukwangali, omdiga is mainly cassava, kachama is sweet water melon and also what is commonly known as Kavango spinach or Mutete is grown here,” said Vice-Chairperson of the Salem Irrigation Project, Johannes Lumbala.
The Salem Irrigation Project started before independence, with the aim of producing food.
Today, the 34-hectare plantation serves as a small breadbasket for more than 40 men and women ploughing and harvesting the fields.
“We feed our families with these vegetables by selling them at the marketplace in Rundu,” said one woman placing the heavy sack of potatoes on the ground.
“If you want to survive or make a living, you must work hard and not just wait for government to throw in a helping hand,” said the woman, preparing to get ready with another empty sack that needed to be filled.
On the field, there was a large stretch of maize, watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins, cabbages and potatoes. This is testimony that the Salem Irrigation Project is progressing well.
However, Lumbala said there are a couple of challenges that the labourers deal with on a daily basis.
“We struggle with marketing our goods sometimes. You’ll be shocked that if you come here in July this year you will still see these sacks of vegetables here – with no market to sell it to,” said Lumbala pointing at the maize fields that will be ready by the end of this month (April).
The problem is that the various marketplaces in Rundu are already glutted with traditional greens, making it difficult for these women to sell their goods.
“Sometimes the food becomes rotten because we don’t have buyers around here. It’s a very good community project, but without any government support,” he added.
Yet, there is some hope for the project’s harvested maize crops as milling companies, like Pentagon Milling in Rundu, are ready to buy such quality products from local subsistence farmers at a fair price.
The multi-million-dollar milling plant at the town which buys maize and wheat in the Kavango Region wants to enhance the government’s green scheme project.
Most of the work at the Salem Irrigation project is done manually. There is need for water irrigation machines and a storage facility.
“Ploughing is mostly done with horses, donkeys and oxen. We need a tractor and two water irrigation machines to make our work easier,” added Lumbala.
He is, however, optimistic that the project will continue to be a flagship of community development for the people of the Kavango.