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Innovation is the key to drought survival

Innovation is the key to drought survival

Gert Jacobie

Despite drought and horrible economic times for Namibia, there is still much to be done to survive until the next rainy season.
The one activity thriving on the bad times seems to be the charcoal industry which is growing exponentially due to the massive market uptake of the very popular charcoal derived from Namibian invader bush like swarthaak and sekelbos. In the worst of times, these invaders of productive farm land are earning millions in foreign currency for the country and by all accounts farmers and exporters are using this fact to their advantage.
The long and the short of it, says Wessel Oosthuizen of King Charcoal Namibia, from Walvis Bay, is that charcoal production provides much needed job opportunities on farms and towns, it earns foreign currency and it opens up farmland that has been lost as grazing land for cattle.
He said his company is exporting around 1 500 tonnes of charcoal to mainly Europe every month and at his facility in the harbour town, he provides 40 job opportunities. He is paying Namibian farmers supplying him top dollars for the product and even with his planned development of much larger facilities for packaging, transport and grading of quality, he cannot really make a dent in the wholesale markets of Europe, the near and far East, and other buyers.
He encourages farmers who had to downscale their cattle herds to take up charcoal production.
“As long as farmers adhere to the rather strict FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) regulations, we will be able to find markets for Namibian charcoal. The quality must obviously be right up there. Our (Namibian) product is most popular around the world,” he said, and added that the local association of charcoal producers are doing a good job of controlling the industry.
There are a number of factories in Namibia packaging and exporting charcoal that are being produced on quite a number of Namibian farms and thousands of workers. In a bad economy and in the midst of a devastating drought, it is a real life saver for many Namibians.
Mr. Oosthuizen says the FSC compliant producers earn much higher compensation for their product than non-compliant producers and it is simply the right way to go.
FSC-compliance assures environmental, labour and safety adherence, while it also paves the way to especially European markets.
The charcoal producers of Namibia have their AGM at the Otjiwa Game Ranch in the first week of August and a number of exhibitors indicated their interest in attending, as the industry around the utilization of invader bush has grown into a massive activity.
Namibia’s much hated invaders now feeds cattle through the production of so-called boskos, it is used as fuel in kilns at Namibia Breweries and Ohorongo Cement, it is strongly considered as fuel for a 40 MW power station near Tsumeb and it keeps the home fires burning all over the world.
It seems even the worst of Namibia’s farm invaders is worth its weight in gold.

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