Thatch Grass A Means Of Survival In Kavango

14 Aug 2016 15:10pm
By Sawi Hausiku-Lutibezi
PIKININI, 14 AUG (NAMPA) - Harvesting and selling thatch grass is without a doubt very important to mother of five, Berthilde Mungowa Mavandje.
“This is our main source of income we depend on. With this income, I am able to send my children to school and feed them. If I do not harvest, my family struggles,” says 33-year-old Mavandje who lives in the village of Pikinini in the Ndiyona Constituency of the Kavango East Region.
She spends up to one month in the dense forest surrounding her village harvesting thatch grass. Harvesting usually starts mid-April in the two Kavango regions until November or December.
Thatch grass is used to build roofs for houses and other structures and is available freely in the areas it grows. Mavandje is only paid for harvesting and could not estimate how much money she makes per month from the sale of grass, but was confident in saying she earns “enough”.
Thatch grass is sold for between N.dollars 7 and N.dollars 10 per bundle by the local harvesters. The grass, which is close to 2 metres long, is grouped into 10 small bundles that make up one big bundle.
Mavandje’s only challenge is that buyers tend to decide on the price per bundle, without recognising the effort and time put into harvesting.
Another local harvester, Fransina Kautwima of the Ncamagoro village in the Kavango West Region, harvests up to 10 000 bundles and earns about N.dollars 6 000 per month for her effort.
“With this money I can afford to clothe my children, send them to school and do many other things,” she said confidently.
One of her challenges is storage because the grass is constantly exposed to direct heat from the sun or gets wet from rain, which ruins it.
During the day, harvesters display the grass for sale along the roads and then move it back for storage in their yards at night.
Some buyers go on to sell the grass at much higher prices, mostly to thatching companies.
It is this exploitation that the Namibia Development Corporation (NDC) now tries to fight by regulating the prices.
“Currently, nobody fights for them to say this price is fair,” said NDC Regional Manager for Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions Egidius Nambara.
He told Nampa recently the trade with thatch grass has increased over the past years, contributing immensely to the household economies of rural people.
Annual sale volumes of 9 million bundles are estimated for the Kavango regions and in many years, the demand is greater than the supply, said Nambara.
“A project is currently initiated by the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and SME Development (MTI), through the NDC, to establish a thatch grass hub in Rundu, with the aim to formalise and stabilise the trade of thatch grass in the north-eastern regions of Namibia,” he said.
The hub, which will provide a platform to local residents to trade in thatch grass, is currently in the final stage of construction.
When its doors open in October this year, the centre is expected to radically change the grass business for Kavango and Zambezi residents.
The NDC has thus been touring various constituencies in the region that are harvesting grass to create awareness of the thatch grass project.
“It is during these visits that we encourage harvesters to rather work in groups, which will make it easier to later on have an association that will represent them on village as well as regional level,” he noted.
Both Mavandje and Kautwima said the establishment of the hub will bring relief to their clients who will not have to travel. They are happy at the prospects of permanent storage for their thatch grass and transport of the grass to the centre.
However, not many buyers are aware that thatch grass has to be quarantined before use because some grass carries the foot-and-mouth disease.
“They just buy grass from our local harvesters alongside the road and when they reach the Mururani veterinary gate they are asked to show a permit to export the grass,” said State Veterinarian in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), Dr Ludgrens Amushila.
He explained that after buying it, the grass is taken to a place where it will be quarantined or disinfected for 30 days, where after the buyer applies for a master permit to export the grass.
Amushila advised people who want to buy thatch grass to first consult the MAWF that will direct them where to purchase the grass.
The creation of the thatch hub, he said, is a great idea especially for small-time harvesters who may face challenges of transport as well as language barriers, which sometimes occur in the sales process.
“It is also good because local harvesters will now have a permanent place where they can sell from. Currently, people (buyers) have to go house by house, asking who sells grass.”
It is sincerely hoped that the hub would indeed assist harvesters like Mavandje and Kautwima to sell their untreated thatch and other thatch-related materials directly for processing, and it remains to be seen whether they will get a good deal for their efforts spent in the hot sun and dense forest, or whether they will revert to selling form the roadside.