Namibia: Namib Blue's Long Cold Road

21 October 2020

For the first time in Namibia's history, the country is exporting tons of blueberries. This is possible because the small delectable fruit, marketed under the Namib Blue brand name, is grown next to Okavango River at Mashare Berries Farming while the challenging transportation to their export destinations in Europe is handled by Transworld Cargo, another Namibian company.

Mashare Berries Farming passed the symbolic 100 ton mark on 6 October 2020, which was during their first year of production. The first seven tons were loaded on a Eurowing Airbus A330 on 21 September 2020 and reached Frankfurt the next day. More shipments of the sought-after berries followed and have found their way into the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Russia and even Hong Kong. According to Mashare Berries Farming, more berries than expected have also been sold locally.

In a statement, the farming entity noted one of the most difficult parts of distributing blue berries is that the small fruits have to be constantly kept at a temperature just above freezing.

The statement continue that once harvested, the blue berries have to reach the cold storage within half an hour, where they are cooled down to a few degrees Celsius. The fragile bluish/purple fruit is extremely pressure and temperature sensitive, which means it has to be packed and sorted in cool rooms at very low temperatures. As a result, the local workforce has to wear thick protective wear although the outside temperature can easily reach above 30˚C.

After the blue berries are packed into cartons, the boxes are neatly stacked onto pallets and then moved into the more cool rooms to await loading onto refrigerated trucks for transport to Hosea Kutako International Airport or domestic destinations.

When on the road, the valuable cargo is kept at a constant low temperature while the same conditions are maintained at the special holding facility at the airport, where the berries arrive a few hours before the cargo plane departs to Europe.

Strict health regulations are followed at Mashare Berries Farming. Every employee has to wash and sanitise their hands every morning before starting work. All equipment has to be washed before being used and the wearing of face masks on the fields and in the packing facility is adhered to particularly during these Covid-19 times.

According to the statement, berry pickers, who bring in buckets of freshly picked blue berries at a mobile collecting point, have to wash their hands everytime. In addition, numerous water points are in the field where the workers can quench their thirst. The employees packing the berries also have to wash and sanitise their hands on a regular base.

Packed into special containers, the Namib Blues are loaded into a Eurowing plane and reach Frankfurt ten hours later. Loggers inside the pallets monitor the temperature the entire way - from the cool room at Mashare to the wholesaler in the northern hemisphere. The very low temperature is critical for the consumer to purchase tasty and fresh blue berries.

Namib Blue's success story is not only limited to the unconventional product being grown in Namibia and exported, but that 450 rural women have found a job in the Kavango East region and that in the year to come, more are expected to be employed by Mashare Berries Farming.

It is also anticipated that the plants will produce more fruit next year on the 20 hectare field which is currently in production. It cost about N$90 million to get the blueberry project off the ground which was made possible with financial backing from a private equity firm.

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