Olive farming has great potential to become one of Namibia’s most important commercial crops.
When all the olive trees growing in the areas of Swakopmund, Hochfeld, Kalahari, Omaruru, Otavi, Orange and Namibia central have reached full production, the country will produce around 74 400 litres of oil but there will still be a shortfall of 40 000 litres.
The demand for the oil has been increasing over the years as more and more people become aware of the medicinal and nutritional value of olives and their by-products.
Olives have been used as and for food, cooking, lamp fuel, preservatives, medicine, cures, laxative, aphrodisiac, cosmetics, healing, magic potion ingredients and religious unction since time immemorial, especially amongst Mediterranean cultures.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry has identified olive farming as one of the agricultural projects to be included in the Spatial Development Initiative (SDI) which was started by South Africa and Namibia in 2000 to unleash the economic potential along the Trans-Kalahari, Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kunene highways, which converge into the Trans-Africa Coast2Coast project connecting Walvis Bay, Maputo via Gaborone and South Africa’s industrial hub, Gauteng.
Last Thursday, the Sam Nujoma Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre held a seminar in Henties Bay to inform potential olive growers of the agricultural business opportunity.
Olive farming was chosen, according to Unam Pro-Vice-Chancellor: Academic Affairs and Research, Professor Osmund Mwandemele, to encourage farmers to move away from low margin agricultural activities to more profitable ones such as olive production.
A mature olive tree can yield up to N$2 000 per year. The life span of an olive tree is up to 1 000 years.
An olive farmer could realise up to N$50 000 per hectare considering that one hectare bears 10 tons and a ton could fetch N$5 000, meaning that a small farmer with one hectare could make a living out of it.
Namibian olives are far larger than those in South Africa and trees have a production of 35 kg of fruit per tree, which makes it a profitable industry.
Although olive farming is relatively new in Namibia, having started in the Hochfeld area in 1992, Mwandemele said the government sees the industry as being important in contributing to the socio-economic development in the SDI and coastal areas.
Olive farming is suited to Namibia because it is the most drought-resistant agricultural tree crop.
Nico Uys of the Weltevrede Nursery in Wellington, South Africa, who made a presentation at the seminar, said olive farming has better returns and better water utilisation.
Morocco, a drought-stricken country, is the second largest producer of olives after Spain. It has 395 000 hectares under olive production. Uys added that apart from reducing bad cholesterol, olives are the least perishable stock item and could help transform the environment in five years.
Olives are said to be the most extensively cultivated fruit crop in the world, with its cultivation areas tripling in the past 44 years from 2.6 to 8.5 million hectares.
The production potential of the trees vary four to five times higher when grown under intensive and irrigated growing conditions. But in most cases it is grown under dry land conditions.
Rolly Heiser, a Namibian olive farmer in the Hochfeld area, said the plant has tremendous potential in contributing to the economy and reducing unemployment, which is over the 36 percent mark, according to recent statistics.
He said Namibia could export to Germany, Australia and neighouring Angola, where olive consumption is very high.
“But the problem is we do not have the oil to export,” he added.
Pruning and harvesting olives generate a lot of work and as many as three to four people can be employed on one hectare at the time when these activities are being undertaken.
Heiser, one of the around 33 olive growers in Namibia, has 6 000 olive trees of nine cultivars with some of them being Mission, Monzanilla, Calamata, Frantoio, Luccino and Coratina growing on his farm in the Hochfeld area.
Namibia does not have a big olive industry yet because, according to Heiser, many people would rather go for cattle farming.
Although there is growing interest in the industry, he said, farmers were divided and could not influence prices on the market as well as to secure shelf space, which is a perennial problem facing Namibian producers.
“Farmers of Swakopmund, Hochfeld, Otavi and the south are doing their own things. We need to come together and form an association,” he said.
If farmers had the right quality of olive oil and they were organised, a 500 ml bottle of olive oil would easily be sold for N$150 to export markets.
The world’s biggest producers of olives are Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Portugal and Liberia.
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