Community economic initiatives in Omaheke address unemployment and poverty
By Tauno Iileka, Omaheke Regional Council PRO.
With a population of just over 70,000, the Omaheke region has the smallest population in the country.
Over 31% of the population live in poverty, among the four highest regions in the country. This is generally attributed to high illiteracy and unemployment rates and the predominant rural-based population. Most of the region’s inhabitants, about 70%, live in areas with an unemployment rate of 39% of the total labour force.
While some of the economic resources in the Omaheke region have been developed to a certain extent, most resources have been underutilized due to financial, technological, marketing and transport constraints. The region has great economic potential which still needs to be fully exploited for the benefit of the local population.
In order to capitalize on economic opportunities and ensure socioeconomic development in the region, the Omaheke Regional Council has entered into two agreements with the Social Security Commission (SSC) on 23 November 2018 to implement two community projects, namely Vergenoeg Firewood and Charcoal Project in Kalahari Constituency and Gebedplaas San Self-help Project in Otjombinde Constituency.
Both projects applied for funding from the SSC-Development Fund (SSC-DF) through the Regional Council, which culminated into these two-year agreements. SSC-DF has allocated an amount of N$975,000 to Vergenoeg Firewood and Charcoal Project and N$1,750,000 to Gebedplaas San Self-help Project. The Regional Council, as the development agency for these two projects, is responsible for the full implementation of the projects, with a combined fund of N$2,725,000.
SSC will disburse the allocated funds into these project account in phases until November 2020, after which the projects are expected to become self-sufficient.
These agreements, further set out conditions and milestones the beneficiaries ought to achieve by the end of each quarter by beneficiaries.
Vergenoeg Firewood and Charcoal Project
Vergenoeg Firewood and Charcoal Project is located some 115 kilometers southeast of Gobabis. As the name suggests, the projects produces and trades firewood and charcoal with a market stretching as far as neighbouring South Africa.
Fifteen project members benefit directly from this project, which is also known as Ada //Gubasen Firewood and Charcoal Project, a Khoekhoegowab phrase meaning ‘let us help ourselves’, through employment and earning a monthly income from the project.
The project has, so far, constructed a storage facility and office on site and undertook training for project members on efficient production of firewood and charcoal in order to maximize production outputs. Currently, the project produces at least 30 tons of wood. The project is able to maintain production, in spite of the global Coronavirus pandemic while putting safety measures in place.
The Regional Council has created a marketing strategy, which is expected to establish a stable market and increase both wood production and sales. The Regional Council has further developed a sustainability plan, indicating the marketing, pricing and investment strategy which is currently under implementation.
Project Mentor, Conrad Eiseb, said the project has really assisted the beneficiaries as they are able to support their families. “The beneficiaries are able to put food on the table and buy clothes. We really appreciate it,” Eiseb said.
Ada //Gubasen Firewood and Charcoal Project experienced its own fair share of challenges during the first year of implementation, which, needless-to-mention, delayed its progress. These include delays in the procurement of vital tools and equipment owing to teething problems in the procurement process of the Regional Council. Nonetheless, all tools and equipment, including a pickup and a trailer, that are needed for wood production have since been procured.
Furthermore, project members have been under-producing, leading to very low wood production. However, Economic Planner in the Regional Council, Saari Simon, conducts regular monitoring visits to Ada //Gubasen. One such visit has resulted in working modalities to improve the production targets from the current 30 tons per month to 115 tons per quarter.
Gebedplaas San Self-help Project
Gebedplaas San Self Help Project is an initiative of the community of Gebedplaas in Otjombinde Constituency. Most people residing in this area are from the San community, therefore, the project members are predominately San. All the projects members are unemployed and from poor economic backgrounds without any source of income. The harsh living conditions this community experiences prompted the idea of starting the project.
This eight-member project aims to produce dairy products and provide welding services at Gebedplaas in order to create employment for the San community in Otjombinde Constituency. Once operational, this project will employ additional 4 people, predominantly from the San community.
So far, the project has secured land from the then Ministry of Land Reform which has been fenced off, including an animal kraal. However, this land allocation process took longer than expected which, subsequently, delayed the overall progress of the project. Therefore, production and operations at Gebedplaas have not yet commenced yet.
However, the Regional Council has completed the designs for the dairy plant and welding workshop and construction is expected to begin in due course and end in October this year, upon which production will commence.
An identified certified mentor is expected to train project members in welding as soon as the project becomes operational. Project members will also visit similar projects to benchmark best practices in dairy production. The project plans to procure ten dairy cows once the workshop has been constructed.
Project Manager, Kaveri Kavari, said the Gebedplaas San Self-help Project is a major turnaround project for the livelihoods of the beneficiaries.
“These are people who had never been employed and relied on handouts. Now they will be earning a proper salary and improve their lives big time,” Kavari added.
As is the case with Ada //Gubasen Firewood and Charcoal Project, the Gebedplaas project faced some challenges during its first year due to the slow procurement process at the Regional Council, which delayed the procurement of vital tools and equipment needed for production.
However, a pickup vehicle to be used for operations has been procured and handed over to the project on 13 December last year.
Caption: Vergenoeg Firewood and Charcoal Project members pack wood ready for distribution. (Photo contributed)