The winner in the conservation category of the 2013 Windhoek Lager Ambassador competition recently hosted by the Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL), Sakaria Shilyomunhu, is one of Namibia’s hopes in eradicating the dependency on food imports.
Seeking ways to ensure food security has been Shilyomunhu’s passion for ages. He has thus dedicated his resources to help local farmers keep their pieces of land productive and sustainable.
The famous Chinese proverb - Give a man fish and he will eat for a day but teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime - runs deep in the Shilyomunhu’s persona. The Ndonga Linena Irrigation Project dents poverty while it increases food production in the Kavango Region and the nation at large, which as he assures, is only the starting point.
The project’s main objective is to help Namibia achieve one of its Vision 2030 goals; reducing the dependency on imports while boosting food security.
“We provide free services to marginalised families living within the vicinity of the project’s headquarters. We do this by ploughing and planting seeds in their mahangu and maize fields. This is to enable them reap a harvest like others do at the end of each season,” he explains.
The project runs under Shikunino Trading Enterprises Limited. It is situated 85km east of Rundu in Ndiyona Constituency in the Kavango Region.
Through the project, farmers practise what is known as the Good Agricultural Practice (Gap) where they conserve farm soil using minimal tillage. This method has seen the maximisation of the agricultural output.
“Although we produce both vegetables and cereals, we are careful not to expose the land to any kind of erosion. Through minimal tillage, we end up with enough grass, which we cut just above the soil and then keep in bales as animal feeds during summer,” he says.
Minimal tillage is a cropping system used to conserve soil. This way, there is minimum soil manipulation, which is necessary for a successful crop production because intensive tillage tends to break down the soil structure. Intensive tillage can also leave the soil susceptible to crusting, which in turn impedes water intake, increases runoff, thus reducing water shortage for crop use.
The positive effect the project has had in the lives of local farmers is what recently landed Shilyomunhu the 2013 Windhoek Lager Ambassador award. This accolade befits hard work and an undying commitment to excellence.
Winning the award, he says, meant a lot to him, his company, the project and his entire community.
NBL launched the Windhoek Lager Ambassador programme in 2010 to recognise and celebrate remarkable Namibians who, like the Windhoek Lager brand, have achieved international recognition for their exceptional qualities. It thus focuses on those who have gone the extra mile to enhance the lives of fellow citizens.
The cereals the project produces annually include maize (≤ 3 000 tons), mahangu (≤ 20 tons), sorghum (≤ 15 tons) and wheat (≤ 900 tons) while the vegetables include watermelons (≤ 70 000 tons), butternuts (≤ 350 tons) and onions (≤ 900 tons).
Although Shilyomunhu’s project does not have the capacity to manufacture cooking oil, it produces sunflower seeds depending on the rainy seasons. It, however, sells the seeds to a local processing firm, which then produces the cooking oil. Plans are underway to establish a plant to process sunflower seeds into cooking oil due to the increasing local demand.
Notably, all the produce is sold locally to enhance the financial wellbeing of the community before the farmers start exporting.
“The community now has the opportunity to source the produce directly from the farm, using the discounted gate-prices,” he submits, adding, the community members also have access to the farm machinery, especially during the ploughing and planting season. The do so by hiring machines at a subsidised price, which encourages them to produce enough food for their families.
It is worth noting, 91% of the labour force comes from the surrounding communities, with 56 permanent employees and about 400 seasonal workers who normally start work in September until December every year.
Shilyomunhu’s passion for agriculture dates back to his childhood days. His grandmother had a little garden of tomatoes and chillies and would share her produce with her neighbours and then sell the rest.
“My grandmother would mostly use the profits to pay our school fees, buy our school uniforms and stationery,” he recalls.
Walking six kilometres to fetch water for the household, as well as water their little garden, those days, taught him the importance of water conservation in agriculture.
His deeper understanding of how to cater to crops also emanated from helping out in his uncle’s farm in Olushandja (Etaka) dam, Omusati Region. His uncle grew a variety of vegetables similar to those he currently grows at his own farm.
While in his final year  pursuing Crop Science at the University of Namibia (Unam), Shilyomunhu was exclusively headhunted by a national irrigation project due to his exceptional knowledge in this field.
Using the same criterion through which he landed his first job, Shilyomunhu plans to invest in human resources development to have well-trained personnel who can compete with other food producers across the country.
Of course he applies technological methods to speed up the production process. But he also plans to invest in research to find a suitable variety of seeds to facilitate high and quality yields.
He laments the ignorance among the locals in implementing the required soil conservation methods. So he recommends that farmers be taught the importance of the entire concept.
“The problem is that those who have the information on soil conservation prefer to sit in the air-conditioned offices in towns instead of going deep into the rural places where farmers are,” he laments. He challenges the ministries of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Environment and Tourism, as well as higher learning institutions to come together to raise awareness on the benefits of soil conservation in rural areas.
Besides the fuss, he applauds the green scheme projects across the country, which he believes will reduce food importation and unemployment.
“Namibia must produce its own food. Despite the aridity of our land, it is pretty fertile, so nothing should stop us from ensuring national food security. I also urge local traders and millers to continue buying local produce,” he concludes.PF