Kalondo in meaty pastures

By By Shasimana Uugulu
April 2011
On the Move
One of Namibia’s top female Corporate Communications gurus, Ebben Kalondo recently defied all odds to take up a position of Senior Manager Corporate Communications at the country’s leading meat supplier, Meatco.

Kalondo, who held a similar position at Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (Namfisa), admits that many Namibians have a wrong perception about Meatco which is normally regarded as a white men controlled institution.

“This is the perception that I also had before I joined Meatco which was based completely on my own ignorance. My impression at my job interview was very enlightening because I met very impressive and competent fellow black Namibians who occupy positions ranging from senior management right down to the floor level at Meatco,” she says.

Such a misconception could have come from the incorrect notion that commercial farming is only for white male Afrikaners, argues Kalondo.

“Being at Meatco, I have discovered that livestock farming is divided equally among all Namibians including a whole lot of women as well. Meatco producers are both commercial and communal farmers,” she notes.

Moving from Namfisa to Meatco was purely a career decision and if she had remained with the financial regulator, it would have been her fourth year at that institution.

However, her moving to Meatco was not easy sailing as she got right into the thick of things the very first day she reported for duty.

“My first day on the job is when Phenylbutazone was detected on our medicine register at the Okapuka feedlot by the European Union inspectors and that required me to start literally running around and learning as I go and the pace has not changed since then,” Kalondo says.

After the detection of the prohibited substance in February, the feedlot was put under immediate quarantine by the Directorate of Veterinary Services and this quarantine was lifted at the beginning of March.

The incident prompted Meatco to immediately recall all products that came from the treated animals and isolated them in order to responsibly manage the situation.

“We were able to successfully undertake this because Meatco has an impeccable traceability system in place and its credibility was re-confirmed through this exercise,” she confides, adding that it was automatically within her line of duty to ensure that Meatco’s exports are not threatened in Europe.

Meatco sells premium meat products to clients in mainland Europe and the United Kingdom and this meat comes from the cattle provided by local farmers, both commercial and communal.

She adds that Meatco also is the exclusive supplier of free range beef to Woolworths, that means that all the free range beef on the shelves of all Woolworths stores in Southern Africa, is Namibian beef.

The Woolworths brand is synonymous with premium quality.

“This is a significant achievement as Namibian meat producers do not give their cattle growth hormones or steroids as it is illegal in Namibia,” she adds.

Growth hormones and steroids are not illegal in South Africa’s beef sector.

According to Kalondo, about 20 percent of all Meatco products are sold locally, “a huge indicator on how Namibians really love our meat”.

Regionally, Meatco sells meat products to South Africa, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sao Tome and Zimbabwe.

Kalondo intends to work towards correcting misperceptions about Meatco and getting key stakeholders to experience the organisation first hand on the local front.

She is particulary impressed by the huge number of women in the livestock farming sector whom she says are making enormous inroads in the sector.

On how she intends to improve relations with northern communal farmers who have been lobbying for the removal of the red line that prohibits them from moving their livestock south of the country, Kalondo says the restriction that makes up the red line is a veterinary and health related restriction.

“This was done to protect the sector from contamination especially from the foot and mouth disease as well as lung disease which is even more devastating than foot and mouth. The outbreaks of such diseases can bring any country’s stock farming to a complete stand still,” she says.

She also highlights that although at the moment some meat products from the north of the veterinary cordon fence do enter the south of the cordon fence, there are clear rules and regulations set by the Ministry on how this can be done.

“There is a lot of work we can do to get our producers in the Northern Communal Areas (NCA) to understand the rationale behind the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF) and this is one of our many focal areas with regard to communications with our key stakeholders,” says Kalondo.

Kalondo is not a farmer herself and her career background has mostly been in the financial sector but she is raring for more challenges in this unchartered territory.

“The agricultural sector is particularly fascinating for me as the world is currently evolving at such a rapid pace where this sector is becoming increasingly more important, especially in light of food security, rangeland management and sustainable natural resource management. Because we eat from the earth, human survival is therefore dependent on the prudent and sustainable management of this sector,” she says.

Kalondo has been in the communication field for the past 18 years having started her career as a Personal Assistant (PA) to businessman Aaron Mushimba who she still regards as mentor, together with Lily Brandt, the current Assistant CEO at NAMFISA.

Over the years she has accumulated different qualifications in the fields of business management and communication, that have kept her star shining brighter.

“I am one of those people that learnt on the run. I attended the Public Relations Practice course with PRISA in 1999, the MDP & SMP with the Graduate Business School of Stellenbosch and I am currently doing my Post Graduate Diploma in Management Practice specialising in Business Improvement with the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business,” she says.

Asked what motivated her interest to study communications Kalondo says her profession is an extension of her personality and comes with a passion.

“I think one of the biggest injustices is when we refuse to listen to others and not accord them dignity by ignoring them and their point of view. Differing opinions actually enrich a conversation and gives it depth,” she says.

Kalondo was born in the village of Onaanda in Uukwambi, Omusati region in a family of six.

Her twin sister Ebba is also in the Communications/Broadcasting field and is currently a UNICEF Communications Specialist for conflict areas and is based in Kinshasa, DRC.

Now that she has been given a chance to change the outlook of Meatco, Kalondo in the short term, wants to see more farmers bringing their cattle to Meatco, especially from the Northern Communal Areas and in the long term she wants to ensure that Meatco remains a critical player in enhancing the viability and sustainability of this very important sector for the benefit of the country. PF