New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Grape Exports Shrink

Aussenkehr — Namibia will only export 3.5 million cartons of export-quality seedless table grapes to supermarkets in the UK, Middle East and the Far East this year it has emerged.

Mother nature, along with other business factors in the market, led to the reduction of this year's harvest. "Since 1989, we experienced one of the coldest winters ever in the valley in 2012," said André Vermaak, general manager of Capespan Namibia.

Last season Namibia exported a record 4.7 million cartons, each carton weighing 4.5 kg. Farm Komsberg, which used to boost the grape harvest, currently faces liquidation for defaulting on debt repayments to several lenders including AgriBank.

"Last year was an exceptional harvesting season for Namibian table grapes. This year, however, mother nature was not so kind and the south experienced several cold fronts that delayed the growth patterns [and] the export of this highly acclaimed commodity for a few weeks," said Vermaak.

The cold fronts delayed the actual harvest for this season, which only started on Monday at Aussenkehr compared to the past when the actual harvest started around the first week of November. "A continuous cold front approaching from the south during August, September right to October, delayed the growth of the plants and the fruits," said Vermaak

Compounding this year's low harvest is the necessary replacement of close to 100 hectares of matured rootstocks around various vineyards in the valley. "These factors caused the export volumes to drop significantly to around to 3.5 million cartons in total for this year."

Nevertheless, this year projections are still significantly higher. "I don't set the figure until I close the last carton," said Vermaak.

Capespan Namibia has a management agreement with the National Youth Service (NYS) to manage the Namibia Grape Company (NGC) as part of a skills transfer process agreement for the next 10 years.

Vermaak, who single-handedly built most of the table grape farms in Aussenkehr, is hailed as one of the most outstanding and successful viticulture experts in Southern Africa. He currently manages the Namibia Grape Company.

He said another 100 hectares with a new cultivar called Early Sweet, a white seedless cultivar, also came into production for the export market this season. The NGC employs 263 permanent staff, and about 700 seasonal employees.

The celebrated grape expert says the company's vision is maintained by growing its grape portfolio into a socially responsible entity, while it is also looking to invest further in Namibian table grape farming opportunities.

Job creation, he said, is cardinal at the NGC and Capespan. "Our companies grew over the last few years and are now starting to show progress with profits. This means our employees are secure," he said.

New Era was reliably informed that Capespan Namibia recently approached the National Youth Service, the owners of the NGC, with a proposal to develop another 114 hectares somewhere in Aussenkehr in order to plant more table grapes.

If given the green light by the board of the NGC, it could mean the creation of another 50 permanent and 300 seasonal jobs for the looming 2013 season.

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