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May 31, 2007

Namibia promotes olive farming

Adventurous agricultural entrepreneurs are always on the look out for opportunities to grow anything with an export potential. At any given time, somewhere in Africa some vegetable, fruit or cereal is touted as the next miracle crop from which farmers will derive unimaginable riches from their sweat.

Hard working farmers who for a whole range of reasons often find it difficult to break even, much less become wealthy, are always initially hopeful whenever there is a new buzz about a relatively exotic crop for which the promoters promise there is a huge demand just over the hill, or in the next country or continent.

Alas, rarely do the newly touted opportunities prove to be as lucrative or as easily accessible as promised by the promoters; nor as hoped for by the farmers, for a whole host of reasons. Apart from growing conditions and yield issues that farmers are usually most concerned about, there is a broad range of issues outside of their control that mean very few will be major beneficiaries of any market opportunities for exotic crops. In other cases, initially promising market niches dry up due to distant factors like sudden over-supply, more efficient (or subsidised) competition in some other part of the world and so forth.

But none of this stops countries, companies and entrepreneurs from looking for new opportunities, hoping to be exceptions to the tough rules of farming and export trade. Namibia's Ministry of Agriculture has identified olive farming as an area of potential for the country.

The Sam Nujoma Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre recently held a seminar to inform potential olive growers of the business potential. Olive farming was chosen, according to an official, as one particularly suitable way of encouraging farmers to move away from low-margin agricultural activities to more profitable ones.

Although olive farming is relatively new in Namibia, having started in 1992, an official said the government sees the industry as being important in contributing to socio-economic development of the mostly desert country because of the crop's resistance to drought.

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