Namibia: Ex-Robben Island Prisoners Try Their Hands At Horticulture

In an attempt to fight food insecurity, the Namibian Former Robben Island Political Prisoners Trust has managed to bring life to the once flourishing Ongombo West farm by establishing a horticultural garden.

The trust is farming on its allocated one hectare section, part of Ongombo West farm, which government expropriated and apportioned to a group of landless Namibians in 2005. It was the first farm to be expropriated in Namibia following a dispute between the farm owners and workers.

The trust includes liberation icon Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, who spent 16 years as a prisoner on Robben Island.

The farm is located 40 kilometres east of Windhoek.

The trust has planted fresh produce, although the area under irrigation is still small, with the trust saying it is still doing horticulture on a trial basis.

One of the workers on the farm, the 29-year-old Teopolina Haufiku who started working at the plot last year, said the garden has been operational for three years now. She explained that they plant fresh produce such as tomatoes, green pepper, carrot, spinach, beetroot, cabbage, onion, watermelon and maize.

Although the total piece of land that belongs to the trust measures 384 ha, only one hectare is used for the garden.

Project manager Julius Ngweda said their first harvest was last year, and consisted of tomatoes, watermelons and green peppers. Currently they have planted carrots, cabbage, spinach and beetroot.

Haufiku said that after winter they would plant tomatoes because they are not suitable for planting in cold weather. Haufiku also said they are "battling with pesticides", as they don't have the right chemicals to spray pests.

He said the chemicals are costly.

According to him they also lack artificial manure, which he says is better for gardening compared to the traditional cow dung. He explained that hydro-mix and nutri-feed are the best since they speed up growth.

"We only sold tomatoes and green pepper. The onions are failing to pick up. We have not harvested onions so far. The garden is currently under trial, hence most of the produce is harvested and sold on a small scale. Therefore we can't make a profit yet," Ngweda explained.

Ngweda elaborated that the one hectare is not enough for the trust to make any profit, adding that the products harvested are insufficient to pay for all the expenses they incur such as for power and pumping water.

The farm has two boreholes, which were secured through the assistance of the Ministry of War Veteran Affairs. The garden also has a cooler to keep the produce fresh.

He said they plan to expand the garden to at least five or ten hectares, if they are to make any profit, but funding is a major challenge.

"There is potential. We only have to work hard and expand to make profit from the garden."

Ngweda said another challenge is the broken fence, adding that neighbouring animals enter and destroy their produce.

"We requested the Ministry of Land Reform to look into the matter, but they said we cannot be accommodated this financial year. We hope we will be accommodated in the next fiscal year. We can't progress as the fence is damaged. It is limiting us from expanding as animals come and eat up our produce."

The workers also raised concern over transport issues, saying the project vehicle broke down.

Source: New Era