29 Aug 2017 12:50pm
By Sawi Hausiku
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
RUNDU, 29 AUG (NAMPA) Each year, Africa loses about N.dollars 53 billion in food waste due to poor storage facilities, market inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the value chain.
Ironically, despite millions of tonnes of food going to waste, Africa continues to be a net food importer, with the food import bill currently standing at N.dollars 464 billion. It is projected to hit a whopping US.dollars 110 billion (N.dollars 1 573 billion) in a decade, according to data from the African Development Bank.
The major problem in Africa is the timely transportation of produce to markets and storage.
The Namibia Census Agriculture Report of 2015 from the Ministry of Agriculture Water and Forestry indicates producing households (farmers) predominantly suffered greater losses in Mahangu (pearl millet), about 24 437 tonnes of this crop in total.
Of that, a significant 22 824 tonnes were lost in the field meaning that the produce was not harvested because of a lack of adequate storage facilities, and 464 tonnes during storage, while 144 tonnes were lost during transportation and the rest in other ways.
Furthermore, agricultural households reported that a total of 3 154 tonnes of wheat was lost that year, with 3 143 tonnes lost in the field followed by eight tonnes during storage and the rest in other ways.
Sorghum was the third highest crop with a total loss of 2 019 tonnes, of which 1 983 tonnes were lost in the field and the rest in other ways, including transportation.
Maize recorded a total loss of 1 931 tonnes, of which an estimated 1 864 tonnes were lost in the field and the rest in other ways.
Marketing produce is another dilemma that confronts many farmers, especially in Africa, but some farmers in the United States of America (USA) are different in that they use social media to promote the sale of their produce and livestock. American farmers are advocating that Namibian farmers do the same to avoid losses and waste.
Jay Hill, a 32-year-old co-owner of the 405-hectare Wholesome Valley Farms in Las Cruces, Texas, said they work day and night to market their produce on social media.
Images of tractors harvesting onions and lettuce; workers sorting onions and others working in the watermelon field; as well as crates of onions stacked in barns are visible on Wholesome Valley Farms Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat accounts.
Hill told Nampa journalists, who visited the USA in June on a media cooperative programme that Wholesome Valley Farms aims to inform potential consumers of the production process before the product reaches their dining table.
He encouraged Namibian farmers to market their produce on social media, as it holds massive benefits for both the farmer and consumer.
Hill said consumers want to have a connection with farmers, hence the importance the farm places on making everything they do transparent through social media.
We also want them to understand why we apply pesticides and fertilisers and different additives to ensure we grow a nutritious crop, he said.
Hill argued it makes sense to open up a dialogue using social media for consumers to engage the producers (farmers) and ask questions to be informed of what they eat.
This, he said, opened international doors for his farm and brought export opportunities.
I know of farmers in Las Cruces who are unbelievable producers but they failed, simply because they are not able to market their crops, Hill said.
Another farmer, Dan Macon who owns Flying Mule Farm - a small commercial sheep operation in the foothills near Auburn, Texas - said social media provides an opportunity for farmers to share information on their day-to-day challenges.
Some of these challenges are universal no matter where you are trying to graze livestock and so social media has allowed us to educate people who do not have any background on what we do, Macon said.
He said farmers in his area have embraced social media and established a Drought Farm Group on Facebook, which is being used by farmers all over the world to share information and make informed decisions when managing operations under a drought.
Macon said social media has enabled the American farmers to connect with others from different environments and share experiences to learn something.
Those of us in other places who cannot connect with a farmer in Namibia who is not on social media, are disadvantaged because we are not getting that perspective, he said.
Queried over Namibian farmers use of social media to market their crops, Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) Executive Director Mwilima Mushokobanji said the technology literacy and Internet access hampers farmers potential use of social media.
He said more than 70 per cent of the people who depend on agriculture for a living reside in remote areas where access to mobile networks for quality Internet is an issue.
That on its own divorces the majority of the farmers from actually participating on social media like Facebook and WhatsApp, he said.
However, Mushokobanji said about 20 per cent of farmers make use of social media to share information regarding operations on their farms.
One such farmer who ploughs 60 kilometres from Otavi at Farm Rimini 969, is former Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi who has demonstrated that social media has great marketing potential for farmers in Namibia.
Recently, Kamwi used Facebook to share pictures of 20 tonne trailers loading maize on his farm that was heading to the Agro-Marketing Trade Agency (AMTA) silos in Omuthiya.
He told this agency he receives several comments regarding posts on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, which to him is highly commendable.
Kamwi said since he shares such information on social media platforms, numerous potential customers have enquired about his products and how they can access them.
Many also commended my efforts, saying Namibia can indeed be self-sufficient if all able bodied men and women were to put on their agriculture gear and go out there, he said.
Kamwi noted that he also received comments from Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Regional Manager of the Rundu Fresh Produce Business Hub, Inekela Kambindjii told Nampa farmers, especially small-scale farmers, need to be educated and trained on the importance of production planning, which includes marketing and supply agreements.
A national database (crop calendar) needs to be developed by all stakeholders as a guiding tool to avoid over production, he said.
Social media is an essential medium of communication and it will greatly benefit all stakeholders in this regard. Information can easily be shared through WhatsApp groups or Facebook, he said.
Kambindjii observed that most farmers and traders can use social media to share information and address the problems of market saturation and food wastages.