By Chrispin Inambao
Against a backdrop of soaring food prices and surging fuel costs, Divundu Open Prison Farm outside Rundu saves Government millions of dollars and is among a few institutions that produce food, thus minimising Namibia’s heavy reliance on food imports.
An abundance of water plus fertile, dark brown soil makes the area ideal for maize farming.
The highly productive, model prison farm produces maize, wheat, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, and pumpkins, among others, feeding thousands of other inmates crammed into the country’s 13 penal institutions, thus contributing to Namibia’s much needed food security, a fact that cannot be denied.
The prison farm 200 km outside Rundu in Mukwe constituency not only provides maize and green veggies for other penal institutions, but in March this year it started to supply maize to all police stations in Kavango that in the first three months received 4.6 tons.
Farm manager Senior Superintendent Meinolf Kambukwe, who is key in the farm’s successes, says this year they expect a harvest of 636 tons of maize from the 116-hectares irrigated plot on which they plant maize and wheat.
At the time of a recent New Era visit, the farm had harvested 117.1 tons using prison labour as its multi-purpose combine harvester was being serviced for the first time since 2004.
The present harvest started in earnest during the rainy season in February when ripe corn was picked from a 12.5-hectare plot and commenced again in March, and would peak when the major services being done are completed on the harvester that yields high volumes.
Last year, the yield stood at a record 250 tons of the CRN3549 maize variety but due to this year’s bumper harvest of more than double from the previous season, the prison farm has already started to supply maize corn to police stations at Mururani, Kahenge, Mukwe and Rundu police stations, said Kambukwe, the manager at the open prison farm.
Maize is planted twice in a year – the first crop being in August and the second crop being March while wheat is planted only in winter from May to the first week in June each year.
“This year, we are going to plant 45 hectares of wheat and already we have planted 20 hectares of wheat. Last year, we only cultivated 20 hectares and had a yield of 50 tons. This year, we expect to have a yield of 180 tons from the 45 hectares,” explained Kambukwe.
This translates into a wheat yield of 4 tons per hectare. And this wheat is milled into flour, some of which is baked into bread for Divundu while the surplus flour is trucked to Oluno.
Only Divundu and Oluno have mini-bakeries, where dough is baked into bread for inmates.
There is also a vegetable plot already under cultivation on a 16-hectare plot on the southern part of the prison farm, which has been tilled and on which carrots, beetroot, and cabbages that are to be harvested in the first week of next month have been planted by inmates.
The vegetable patch on the southern fringe of the farm boasts a drag irrigation system of 144 sprinklers, 16 in a row, spaced 12 m apart and that are fixed in one position for 4 hours.
Each sprinkler delivers 1.49 cubic m of water per hour – therefore 42 mm is applied per three day cycle with the water pressure at the sprinkler being 2.5 bars.
And the water pressure must be checked regularly as a ‘control measure’. The vegetables are being planted in schedules to ensure there is a constant supply of veggies throughout the year.
One of the challenges they face is that thieves who sneak under the un-electrified fence occasionally steal their produce and marauding hippos also damage crops and the fence.
The farm boasts four centre pivots, two with a 25-hectare range, one with 30 hectares and another with a range of 20 hectares.
This type of irrigation system is very sophisticated and since this system depends very much on the availability of electricity, rainy seasons that are characterized by power interruptions, impact negatively on the entire irrigation system.
For now, there is also a dire need to recruit a qualified electrician to attend to irrigation system repairs and this would eliminate costly outside contractors.
Other equipment on the prison farm are four big tractors and two small ones for pulling trailers laden with crops, a self-propelled combine harvester which is multi-purpose and can be used for harvesting maize, wheat, beans and millet and two hammer mills.
It also has a four row maize planters, vegetable planters and one cool room.
The prison covers a total land area of 260 hectares of which 116 hectares are under irrigation and there is a 16 hectare area being de-bushed and de-rocked by a private contractor, which will result in the cultivatable area under dry land being 120 hectares.
The Namibia Agronomic Board will this year build maize and wheat silos at this prison.
Superintendent Jason Shikongo who serves as assistant farm manager and Selma Shaanika a farm technician assist Kambukwe on a daily basis. Chief Superintendent Andreas Shapaka is the officer-in-charge of this low-security prison where escapes are unheard of.