Young graduates trained in precision desert agriculture
By John Haufiku
A group of nine agri-preneurs recently graduated from practical training under a project titled; ‘Precision desert agriculture as a job creator’.
The project was led by the University of Namibia (Sam Nujoma Campus) in partnership with AvaGro (Farm Shalom – Swakopmund) and Jayden Nashe Enterprises (South Africa).
Present at the graduation ceremony were, the Mayor of Henties Bay Town, His Worship Lewies Vermaak; the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Development, Prof Anicia Peters and representatives from AgriBank of Namibia, Namibia Agronomic Board and Swakopmund Municipality.
The ceremony started with the project manager, Dr. Mupambwa, giving some background about the project. He pointed out that the project was financed by the Southern Africa Innovation Support programme and that the project was active since October 2019. Dr Mupambwa further indicated that the project managed to undertake this hands-on practical training approach, which involved precision horticulture crop production, as well as mushroom production. The entire training process was completed over 8 months.
The horticulture crop training was done at AvaGro’s Farm Shalom in Swakopmund, whilst the oyster and button mushroom training was done at UNAM, Sam Nujoma Campus. On horticulture crop production, the trainees were taught how to produce crops under the harshest conditions in Namibia, e.g. the Namib Desert, through the use of a controlled environment, use of artificial planting media, and precise water and nutrient application. This saw them experiencing a full cycle of production for most of the vegetables consumed in Namibia, i.e. spinach, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, watermelons and cucumbers, among others.
The trainees worked at the farm with staff from Avagro imparting knowledge to them on a daily basis, including weekends. On mushroom production, the trainees learned about the production of oyster and button mushrooms. This process involved the following: pure culture multiplication, spawn production, substrate inoculation, spawn running, fruiting and harvesting of mushrooms.
Apart from practical skills in agriculture, the trainees also learned about best-practice methods to develop investable business proposals. These trainees are now busy in the field, pitching ideas to various investors and funders for capital or seed funding.
The representatives from AvaGro, Mr Ruben Shukulo and Jayden Nashe Enterprises, Mr Hlerema, also encouraged the young and now fully equipped graduates to take the bull by the horn and become full-time agri-preneurs that can contribute to food security in Namibia. The trainees were also encouraged to transfer the skills that have been imparted onto them, to other young entrepreneurs in various regions.
Ms Abrahams from the Namibia Agronomic Board also gave a presentation on the overview of the horticultural industry in Namibia, and encouraged the trainees that have now registered a company called Innovative Green Hands, to work together with NAB in order for them to plan profitable business ventures in Namibia. Ms Smith from AgriBank of Namibia also highlighted the will of AgriBank to support initiatives such as the one developed by the graduating trainees. She also encouraged the young company Innovative Green Hands to make use of the various loan facilities that are being offered by AgriBank, such as the women and youth facility, where collateral issues can now be waived for applicants.
The Mayor of Henties Bay made the occasion memorable by ensuring the future of the Innovative Green Hands agribusiness, as he committed the Municipality of Henties Bay to offer the young agri-preneurs land in Henties Bay for them to undertake their agri-business. Land is among the most critical challenges that young entrepreneurs face when looking for funding. In conclusion, the PVC-RID for UNAM, Prof Peters, indicated that the project has set the tone for community engagement projects at UNAM, and thanked SAIS for providing the funding for this project, as well as the consortium members Avagro and Jayden Nashe Enterprises for transferring their business and practical skills to the young graduates.
To date, the young agri-preneurs have designed a prototype portable hydroponic unit capable of producing fresh vegetables for family’s that live in towns where space and land are limited. They are now marketing this as part of their product basket.