!Nara seeds: The Namib Desert's treasure

Namibia is richly blessed with traditional resources that can be processed to produce cosmetics, food, pharmaceutical and traditional medicines.

The desert, which might seem to be dry land that doesn’t provide a good outcome for human beings, produces !Nara seeds that are used by the founders and owners of Desert Hills, Volker and Stephanie Huemmer.

In 2007 the duo established the company Desert Hills with the objective of finding ways of making use of the Namibian endemic !Nara seeds. To date the seeds are still harvested in an 8000-year old tradition by the Topnaar people living along the Kuiseb river in the Namib desert.

Stephanie says they use the seeds for many different products because of its versatility. “Volker used the cracked seeds in many food creations and decided to venture into pressing oil from this unique desert plant. After many trials, finally in 2008, the company produced the first 100 percent pure, cold pressed !Nara oil,” she says.

She adds that different food oils, dressings and sauces were created. Lab-tests showed that the oil has very high Omega-6-fatty acids and these healthy fatty acids are not only essential for a healthy diet, but also help regenerate dry chapped skin conditions.

“Soon we ventured into the natural cosmetic sector. After years of research, formulating as well as working together with professional natural cosmetic specialists, the cosmetic section of the company has become the main sector of the production,” Stephanie says.

Locals, as well as tourists, grace themselves with these healthy cosmetics. As the demand of !Nara products increases, Desert Hills will not only curb its products on a national sphere, but will also take a step towards exporting them.

“We are in the process of launching a new Organic cosmetic series that has all the declarations needed to export into the European market and we plan to venture into this soon,” she says.

On top of the main products that include food oils, salad dressings and sauces for the Namibian Market, the company produces cosmetics. The company offers the cosmetic series called Natural Namibia, !Nara body food with face cream, sun screen, hand and body cream, body oil, different soap bars, scrubs and bath salts. The new Natural Namibia !Nara organic cosmetic series will introduce a face cream, night cream, after shave cream, hand and body cream and two natural deodorants.

A group of 30 to 40 Topnaar harvesters yield the !Nara seeds each year for Desert Hills. Moreover, different creams are outsourced to companies equipped with larger machinery and the know-how to mix creams at larger quantities. In this manner Desert Hills works with a natural plant product that is fully reliant on rain and grows according to the very erratic rain fall patterns of Namibia. This however causes fluctuating harvest but is more flexible.

Stephanie says the Kuiseb river inhabitants also benefit from this production in that every year new harvest conditions are negotiated and agreed on. The Topnaar community not only receives cash income through the harvesters trading the seeds with Desert Hills, but an additional amount of N$ 5.00 per litre oil pressed by Desert Hills is paid over to the community each year.

Furthermore, Desert Hills has initiated a Topnaar ladies soap making course and supplies this group of soap makers. The courses that are funded through Cosdef and teaches basic soap cuts for re-batching as well as soap production.

Desert Hills creates hand-made boutiques, natural food and cosmetic products. The company comes up with the idea for its products, and it is also does a large amount of its own production.

While the primary !Nara oil as well as many other products are manufactured on the small holding plot premises outside of Swakopmund by the core group, some of the production steps are outsourced.