On 22 September 2016 the ThinkNamibia Environmental Awareness Campaign team and key stakeholders visited the Olushandja Horticultural Producers Association (OHPA), an association of farmers in the Onesi Constituency in the Omusati region in northern Namibia. The association consists of approximately 65 registered members who are comprised of 62 individual projects and 3 community projects (namely; Benedict’s Sisters of Oshikuku, Ela Disability Project and Elderly People Project). The Association was founded in 2003 by the smallholder farmers who own land surrounding the Olushandja Dam. Being a part of the Association, results in fewer costs of imports, improved information sharing, employment creation and also long term revenue for smallholder farmers. The smallholders farm with a variety of crops, including; tomatoes, watermelons, cowpeas, butternuts, cabbage, spinach, beetroots, green peppers, onions and maize to mention but a few.
Local farmers are affected by the impacts of climate change, especially in the northern parts of the country. The farmers of OHPA have adopted conservation agriculture practices to adapt to the impacts of climate change, such as drought, by conserving water and soil while maximizing crop yield. Farmers also practice crop rotation given their wide range of crops. This helps improve the soil and also restore soil nutrients by mixing with legumes (e.g. cowpeas) that fix nitrogen in the soil. Some crops like sorghum also improve the soil structure whilst onions help with pest control.
In the concept of soil conservation, minimum tillage is used by farmers which encourages minimal soil disturbance. Farmers normally grow their crops on ridges to improve weed control, soil temperature and moisture as well as to control erosion. Ridges are prepared using a series of farming equipment, firstly disc harrows are used to incorporate residues and mix the soil, thereafter rippers are used to level the soil and finally a ridge is used to form the ridges on which the crops are grown.
Sowing of crops starts in the shade house/greenhouse in seedling trays, to improve germination. These seedlings are then transplanted in the field when they are ready. Different varieties are sown separately while recording their type, planting date and the expected date of harvest.
The Olushandja dam is the main source of water for the farmers. They pump water from the dam into their farms for irrigation. They have adopted the drip irrigation method which conserves more water as compared to flood and/or sprinkler irrigation. Pipes are laid on ridges and this system allows water to drip slowly at the roots of the crops, this also discourages weed growth around the crops. The systems in place give 8 liters of water per hour and pipes are kept at the length of 50m to improve water distribution and pressure in the drip irrigation systems.
Fertilizer applications depend on the stage of the crops’ growth because crops require different nutrients at different stages (e.g. germination, flowering and fruiting). Such fertilizers include in order of application; Ammonium phosphate for roots development, Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (NPK) for growth, Ammonium for leaves and Urea for growth. Manure, especially goat manure, is used for its high urea content and is only applied after it has been left to rot and as such to kill nematodes (worm that feeds on crops). On the other hand, crop residues (plant remains after harvesting e.g maize stalk) are also used to improve soil structure and for mulching (act of covering the bare ground around crops with crop residues). These fertilizers are applied mainly by burying them on the ridges, close to the plant roots. However for soluble fertilizers’ such as Potassium, Ammonium, Calcium and Urea, these are dissolved in water and fed to the plants through a process called fertigation. Pests are controlled through a chemical process of spraying with pesticides and weeds are controlled manually by uprooting them by hand.
Drip irrigation is the main method for irrigating crops among the producers in OHPA
The farmers of the OHPA mainly produce for the Namibian market and household consumption. They provide products to catering companies, schools, clinics and prisons. With the establishment of Agro-Marketing & Trading Agency (AMTA) the OHPA cooperative of farmers have better access to markets as they sell their products to AMTA which then sells and distributes their produce nation-wide . Otherwise, they also provide their products to business people at informal markets in northern Namibian towns.
Agriculture is the backbone of every nation and with food security being a major concern; the focus needs to turn to sustainable agriculture. However, with the effects of climate change, there is a greater need for Climate Smart Agriculture that enables farmers to adapt to and mitigate these impacts. Producing quality products requires skills and knowledge in the horticultural field thus the Olushandja Horticultural Producers Association is a powerful example of how to achieve food security within the country while using climate resilient methods.
Workers harvesting tomatoes at Nandjenda farm in the Olushandja Horticultural Producers Association