The hopes and ambitions of the government to have Namibia’s home-grown rice sold in local retail shops is yet to be realized, as packaging and marketing remain two of the many critical challenges that still need to be addressed.
Packaging and marketing have been identified as key to its future success so that people can identify and buy the Namibian produce at local shops, which are mostly flooded with foreign products mainly from South Africa.
Last year in June more than 70 metric tons of rice from the Kalimbeza National Rice Project near Katima Mulilo in the Zambezi Region were dispatched to the local commercial market, with the hope that the rice would be readily available in retail shops.
But the sad reality is that many people do not even know where to get the rice – while few know its aroma.
New Era Weekend recently visited one of the country’s smallest collection hubs in Windhoek at Lafrenz Industrial Area, where only a few packs of rice are displayed next to fresh produce such as tomatoes and potatoes from the green schemes.
Officially launching the project last year June, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry John Mutorwa was optimistic that the volume of 70 metric tons should hopefully double or even, at most, triple by 2016.
“This is indeed a true meaning of growth at home. What remains to be completed is basically and simply to claim the rightful market space for our rice,” he had stated.
New Era Weekend interviewed Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA)’s corporate branding and promotion officer, Meke Uushona, regarding the issue of packaging and other matters related to fresh produce hubs.
When asked how far AMTA is in ensuring that fresh produce, such as Kalimbeza rice, are available at major retailers countrywide, she said the agency is not necessarily tasked with packaging.
However, she explained that packaging is very crucial for visibility of local produce, hence AMTA is encouraging all local fresh produce to be packaged in an identifiable manner to promote the Namibian brand.
“Packaging is one of the business opportunities available at our hubs. This, as well as food processing. We wish to encourage business people to consider these opportunities here. We have sent out notices promoting business opportunities and these are just some of them,” she noted.
Nonetheless, she said the rice is currently only available at AMTA hubs in Ongwediva, Rundu and Windhoek.
Kalimbeza rice is sold for N$24 per 2kg.
“This rice is tasty and we would like to encourage people to try it out. You have not tasted good rice until you taste the Kalimbeza rice,” said Uushona.
However, plans are underway to ensure that the rice becomes available in retail shops countrywide.
Uushona explained that AMTA is mandated to implement the marketing, trade and research of agricultural products as well as control of imports and exports of agronomic and horticultural products at ports of entry or exit in Namibia.
It is also responsible to inspect the facilities and farms for compliance with Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) standards, specific crop marketing standards, as well as implement food safety in Namibia.
She added that they also manage the national fresh produce business hubs and national strategic food reserves towards attainment of food safety and security.
“The facilities belong to the government and were strategically positioned to ensure everyone has reasonable access to them. AMTA trades through market agents who sign agreements with retailors or individuals dealing with fresh produce. AMTA is equipped with facilities, which ensure smooth trading via a system called market share promotions. These ensure a minimum of 44 percent of the total turnover of a given trader is sourced from local producers,” she explained.
Further, she said, AMTA provides ideal transport to ensure that local fresh produce reach the markets.
The produce currently in the hubs range from tomatoes to squash, onions, potatoes, oranges, among other produce, which are collected as they are harvested from farms to keep them fresh for consumers.
She said a hub is under construction in Windhoek and at 10 000 square meters it will be the biggest of all the hubs in the country.
Besides the fresh produce, AMTA is also managing the national strategic food reserves or silos on behalf of the government.
This, Uushona says, is to ensure that the country has reserve food for any emergency need in the country, especially when hit by drought.
With the current completion of Okongo silo’s expansion from 500 metric tons to 4500 metric tons, it has brought the total national grain storage capacity to 22 900 metric tons, she said.
“As a result of persistent drought that the country has been experiencing during the past years, the reserve has released grain to the Department of Disaster Risk Management in order to respond to the food shortage in the country and distribute it to the needy,” she said.
Since April 2015 the reserve has released 508 tons of mahangu and 22 365.635 tons of white maize.
AMTA through the national strategic food reserve division currently buys grain from the producers, including the green scheme projects, which are the main suppliers to replenish the reserve.