Greening the Namibian Desert: An African Success StoryA determined entrepreneur turns an arid landscape into a burgeoning vineyard
SUN-scorched and starved of rain, Namibia's endless desert and scrubland is an unforgiving place for a determined farmer with a dream. Only 2% of the country receives enough rain to grow crops. Irrigation from rivers is possible only along a few border rivers in the far north and south and borehole irrigation is prohibitively expensive.
Yet Dusan Vasiljevic, a lone entrepreneur with a feel for horticulture and global markets, observed that Namibia's mild coastal climate was perfect for growing table grapes for Europe at times of the year when they are most vulnerable to frost elsewhere in the world. Since first connecting those dots in 1988, Vasiljevic - and those who have followed in his footprints - built a new agricultural industry from scratch on land that received less than 50mm of rainfall a year.
Spreading the benefits
Vasiljevic's market knowledge and contacts paid off handsomely. Fresh table grapes sell wholesale for about $3,800 per tonne (after duty) in Europe, and these good prices allowed Vasiljevic to restructure his debt and start planting new vineyards. Today, about 75% of all Namibian table grape sales are to the EU.
Following his initial success, Aussenkehr Farms planted more vineyards, and currently has 350 hectares under production. Vasiljevic sold some land to the Namibian Government at a reduced price, and the parastatal agency the Namibia Development Corporation has planted more vineyards, as has a black empowerment corporation (the Namibia Grape Company (NGC), supported by the Government Institution Pension Funds of Namibia) on 360 hectares adjacent to Aussenkehr. The government is also developing new production areas on the farm Tandjeskoppie, next to Aussenkehr with assistance from the Arab Development Bank, and plans another 5,000 hectares under irrigation.
'Quite a few other farmers, although not on the same scale, have followed his example and have learned from him how to produce and successfully export table grapes of high quality standards worldwide,' said de Naeyer. 'Namibian grapes are well sought after in the European and Asian markets before and around Christmas time.'
Total Namibian table grape production has grown from 1,000 tonnes produced by Aussenkehr's first 150 hectares in 1991 to more than 12,000 tonnes in 2003. The approximate value of these exports is about N$180 million ($29 million).
Roughly 3,500 new permanent employment opportunities have been created by the table grape industry with another 7,000 workers employed as part-time harvesters for three to four months a year. The industry is the largest employer in the impoverished, underdeveloped Karas Region where Aussenkehr is situated. For every 1,000 tonnes of table grapes Namibia has produced and exported, an estimated 300 new permanent and 600 part-time jobs were created, and these workers earn a total of about N$6,000,000 (about $967,000).