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Young Namibians seeking to transform agriculture through innovation

WINDHOEK, (The Southern African Times) – Young Namibians are abandoning traditional ways of farming and adopting unconventional agricultural methods to transform food systems in Namibia.

At his village in the Omusati region in the northern part of Namibia, Otto Kapuka, a young farmer, toiled away at field, tilling the soil, setting up an irrigation system and inspecting plants.

“Agriculture is now my lifeline,” said Kapuka.

With passion and stamina, he is one of many young farmers breaking barriers through agricultural innovation.

According to the young farmer, in the past, the field he set up his garden on would stand idle, waiting for the next farming season for the farming activity to resume. But with an irrigation system and new approaches employed at the project, they now utilize the land all seasons.

But, water scarcity and limited land for farming thwart the dreams of many aspiring farmers.

“Just drilling alone can cost up to 78,000 Namibian dollars (about 5,348 U.S. dollars) toward putting up a water system. Water harvesting has become common practice for the young farmers too,” Kapuka said.

Agriculture has become an integral part of many Namibian youths despite the challenges, gradually becoming a career option. As the project grows, Kapuka shares best practices with other youth by helping fellow youth with their agricultural projects.

“We teach others and assist them to start the project,” Kapuka said, adding he also gave advice on equipment identification and explained the agricultural supply chain to ensure thorough understanding.

For Nelson Ashipala, a young horticulture farmer who benefited from the Agricultural Bank of Namibia’s production loan scheme, farming is more than food production. He strives to create employment opportunities for locals in the Kavango West region where his farm is based.

Women work at a planting base in Okahandja, Namibia, Sept. 7, 2021.

“I have a full-time farm manager, four permanent employees and seven seasonal workers,” Ashipala said.

The efforts are also envisaged to shun the broad perception held by many young people that agriculture is “dirty.”

“Agriculture is not as dirty as it seems; the dirt is only when in the field. It is fun, and it is enjoyable; there is money,” Kapuka said.

This can be achieved through factual information provision and success stories. For Kapuka, trying to produce as fast as possible demonstrates that agriculture can work for youth.

However, challenges such as access to funding by most young farmers, however, persist.

To address the gaps, local institutions are providing financing toward agriculture through more inclusive loan schemes.

Indileni Nanghonga, senior research and product development officer at the Agricultural Bank of Namibia, said that the aim is to promote diversification among farmers in terms of the products offered.

“These include advance finance to persons of interest, to ensure that we promote agricultural activities. Other packages are inclusive of the unemployed, relaxed collateral conditions as well as other tailor-made packages to cater for communal farmers,” Nanghonga said.

Toward the financial year-end of 2020-21, the bank advanced some 3.5 billion Namibian dollars to the agricultural sector.

Efforts are under way to ensure that conversations on youth in agriculture cascade to the grassroots level.

“Our call is for the re-designing of our food systems along the supply value chain to address the current challenge of securing places in the retail sector to sell the products. But with passion, we shall transform how we do agriculture,” Kapuka added.

Meanwhile, the government is also extending support to young farmers. The National Youth Council established 14 horticulture gardens in all 14 regions to contribute to food security through practicing urban gardening.

Sharonice Busch, the executive chairperson of the National Youth Council of Namibia, said that young people in Namibia actively participate in the agricultural-food system in various diversified ways through formal and informal wage work and entrepreneurship initiatives.

“Namibia’s agriculture sector remains a lucrative economic sector that has so much potential to create substantial new sustainable jobs for youth to reduce the growing youth unemployment rate,” she said.

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