The Namibian Trade Forum (NTF)’s Chief Executive Officer Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati believes the Herculean task of making sure that the market has space for Namibian products will not be an overnight success story, and needs more input from all stakeholders in the economy.
Nghipondoka-Robiati, who is an agricultural economist by profession, believes that the retail charter being driven by her organisation and set for launch this year will go a long way in making sure that the proliferation of Namibian goods on the local market is treated with expediency.
Namibia, with its largely importation-based economy, has struggled to overturn a rather high trade deficit, which has seen the country being a net importer of consumables. The country imports the bulk of its consumables from former colonial master South Africa, although some sectors such as agriculture have managed to improve the situation. She believes it is unacceptable that the country still struggles to produce enough for its staple diet.
“Namibia still imports about 60% of our staple food, maize meal, from outside. It is a situation that we have to deal with because we do not have rivers and high rainfall. However, there are some Namibian products which have done exceptionally well in the world, including our fish products. We are still a better salt producer than other African countries,” she noted.
She furthermore emphasised that while it is important for the country to push for the proliferation of Namibian products on local shelves, packaging, quality and merchandising are some of the key issues which need to be addressed by local producers.
She also believes that the NTF has covered reasonable ground in creating public-private dialogue in a bid to cement a social contract between Government and the industry. The NTF is also responsible for both local and domestic trade promotions for the country.
“The retail charter will be a transformation charter with binding targets, and entails aspects of sourcing from Namibian manufacturers, increased awareness and demand for local goods, the training and mentoring of previously disadvantaged Namibians, support programmes for local SMEs as well as opportunities for local ownership and control. It also touches on procurement procedures, terms of credit and payment/rebate provisions. The charter will furthermore look at aspects such as consumer protection standards, as well as social, economic and environmental responsibility.
She told Prime Focus Magazine that the NTF is also working on retail price monitoring (RPM). This is meant to standardize the pricing system in the country. Ironically, RPM measure comes at a time when concerns have been raised that Namibian products’ prices have skyrocketed above imports.
“With the RPM, we also track prices and compare them to products which are imported by first getting aggregated data and do the comparison, and we believe the principle of the procedure is right,” she stated.
In the past year, there were concerns raised over the pricing of locally-produced chicken, which many consumersbelieved was fetching way beyond the imported products. There has also been a raging war between local milk producers and foreign producers, which has seen the government being challenged in court.
The notion has been that improved local products’ supply would result in employment-creation and industrialization. The NTF is also working on the Access Business Project.
“The Access Business Project support programme is a Namibian export development service for businesswomen involved in agriculture, leather products, and arts and crafts, will be targeted and exposed to markets in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA),” she says.
The programme also seeks to promote the economic empowerment of women and improve their standards of living. She mentions that, “We are also working on the Growth at Home Strategy a theme chosen by the Ministry of Industrialisation SME Development to reinforce the importance of accelerating economic growth, reducing income inequality and increasing employment.”
Research also shows that the theme subsequently became a strategy adopted by Government for implementing Namibia’s first Industrial Policy and to attain the strategic objectives for manufacturing as outlined in the 4th National Development Plan.
Namibia is on a drive to improve Industrialisation in a bid to stimulate economic growth, employment creation and also achieve a developed status as enshrined in the economic blueprint Vision 2030.
The strategy emphasizes industrialization, manufacturing and value addition. It aims to develop value chains that are based on raw materials available in Namibia. She believes the NTF has done pretty well to set up and be able to set benchmarks in their operations although it is not an organisation with many people.
“The reason why I chose international Trade is because I know that agriculture has always been the sort of sensitive area as far as trade negotiations were concerned, “she says. The NTF CEO also reveals that, “When we first started it was only me and the administrator at NTF and I came from a technical background all of a sudden I have to manage people, I was trained and qualified for it so I had to read a lot and study everything. I had to learn how to deal with people and try to be the chief executive officer. I take challenges as a stepping stone.”
Nghipondoka-Robiati says, “We need to be driven first to be successful. We are still a heavily dominant men community and I have seen it when I go to meetings with one of my male colleague people always think he is the boss and I think we still have a long way to go.” She adds, “our marketing campaign has not been that vibrant because we wanted to sort out the in-house first, but now our aim is to get the name NTF out there because the average of Namibians do not know what NTF is all about.”