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Namibian blueberries a hit on the global market

WINDHOEK (The Southern African Times) – A few years ago, no one would have dreamt that one could grow high-quality blueberries in a country as dry as Namibia. 

However, in July, Mashare Berries (Pty) Ltd managed to do just that, producing the first largescale commercial harvest of the fruit in the country. 

A total harvest of 150 tonnes – on only 20 hectares of land – is predicted for this year. 

In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, photo, a worker rakes wild blueberries at a farm in Union, Maine. Blueberries are touted by health food bloggers and natural food stores because of their hefty dose of antioxidants and ability to be used in smoothies and juices. But the industry that picks and sells them is dealing with a long-term price drop, drought, freezes, diseases and foreign competition, and farmers are looking at a second consecutive year of reduced crop size. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

There are plans underway to expand the project and international exports are set to commence in August to markets across Europe, Asia and the Indian Ocean islands, including Mauritius, the Maldives and Seychelles. 

According to a statement issued by Cherry Irrigations, the historic harvest is currently underway at the project located close to the Okavango River between the Mashare and Mupapama villages in Kavango East. 

Cherry Irrigation designed and implemented the fully automated drip irrigation and fertigation management system for the landmark project. 

The fruit is being sold and marketed under the trading name Namib Blue and is earmarked for Namibian as well as international consumption. 

Exceptional fruit 

Namibian manager of Cherry Irrigation, Willem Mostert, said the quality of the fruit harvested so far has been exceptional. 

“We are proving what is possible with the right planning, infrastructure and management in place.” 

Mashare project director Albert Basson said the harvest for this year is set to continue into late October. 

“We are projecting a yield of up to 150 tonnes, as different varietals reach maturity. Currently, three varietals imported from the US-based grower Fall Creek have been planted on the property: AtlasBlue, JupiterBlue and BiancaBlue. The plantings were established in November 2019, with 16 hectares under net, two hectares in tunnels and two hectares in an open field.” 

Untapped potential 

Mashare Berries plans to double its production area by the end of 2021, with Cherry Irrigation onboard. 

“Ultimately, within the next five years, we would like to expand blueberry cultivation across 200 hectares to 300 hectares of land in the region,” Basson added. 

Cherry Irrigation executive director, Charles Cherry, said he believes the success of the pilot project attests to the enormous untapped potential of arid or semi-arid regions. 

He said these areas can effectively produce a range of crop types through careful water and resource management. 

“We are seeing first-hand from this development and others we’re involved with across Namibia that customised irrigation design is the way forward. Simply put, it ensures both environmental sustainability and commercial profitability over the long term.” 

May cost more 

According to Cherry, the outlay of quality equipment, custom designs, smart technologies and artificial intelligence monitoring solutions may cost more initially. 

“But for crops like blueberries that are highly sensitive to climatic conditions and soil and water quality, we believe this approach is crucial to success.” 

Basson agreed. “We partnered with Cherry Irrigation after seeing their success with custom system designs for blueberry plantations in South Africa. Like us, they recognise the enormous agri-potential of Namibia that we are working to unlock.”

Mashare Berries is a subsidiary of Mashare Irrigation, which produces a variety of grains and vegetables, including wheat, maize, sorghum, potatoes, onions and cauliflowers in the Kavango East for the local Namibian market. 

“With the right teams, investors and companies onboard, Namibia has the potential to be a world-class production hub for fresh goods,” said Cherry. 

“There is a big national drive to develop local resources properly and to produce more locally, including fruit, vegetables, livestock fodder and other horticultural products, thereby reducing the need to import.”

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