Katima Mulilo — Due to the close proximity of the Zambezi River workers at the Kalimbeza rice project in the Caprivi Region now fear that the rising water level of the river, currently at 4.53m, might inundate and wipe out the entire 40 hectares of rice fields under cultivation.
The situation has set off panic among rice growers, because the floods are expected well before the seasonal harvesting on the 160-hectare project, although only 40 hectares are under cultivation at present.
Speaking exclusively to New Era yesterday morning, research technician Venaune Hepute said they have harvested a portion of the produce to experiment on how the rice will react when milled before it is fully matured.
"For the rice to be of good quality, it must be harvested when it is 80 percent matured. But now due to the threat posed by the looming floods, we are thinking of having an early harvest to avoid losing our entire crop," he said.
"We know that an early harvest might affect the quality of the end product, but we are left with no choice. The direct impact will be breakage of the rice during the milling process, because it will not be fully matured. But we will sort and grade it accordingly before it is packaged and sold to the public," said Hepute.
He is however mindful of the fact that due to the floods the project faces the risk of a reduced harvest compared to last year's bumper crop of 70 tonnes of the popular rice. When this reporter visited the project this week all the silos were empty, since the demand for locally produced rice is said to be very high.
"As you can see we have nothing in our silos for now, because public demand is high. Ever since the project was inaugurated by the President in 2009, production has been increasing yearly," Hepute said.
The Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Chief Samuel Ankama proposed that the workers erect sand walls around the rice fields to prevent the water from inundating the rice fields.
"I'm sure if you can place sandbags around the fields you can mitigate the potential damage of the water and only allow minimum water for irrigation purposes," the deputy minister offered, when approached for a reaction during his visit to the project this week.
"It is perhaps high time that we construct mega dams in Namibia to harvest rainwater, because we keep on complaining that there is not enough water in the country, yet we can fully utilize the rain water," said the deputy minister.
Ankama is on a working tour visiting fisheries projects in the region and to meet staff members of the fisheries ministry to acquaint himself with the activities of his new office. He also paid a visit to the rice project.