Phase 2 of Neckartal irrigation scheme begins – The Namibian
THE government has started the second phase of developing the multi-billion-dollar Neckartal irrigation project.
This follows the recent acquisition of 11 000 hectares of land in the //Karas region. Initially, the government spent over N$5 billion on the first phase of the project.
Agriculture, water and land reform minister Calle Schlettwein said the second phase of the development, is the development of an irrigation project.
Speaking at the National Assembly last week on Thursday, Schlettwein said the project was given a boost with an additional budget allocation made available for the design stage of the scheme.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform has been allocated a total of N$2,4 billion in the 2023/24 financial year, a 22,1% increase from last year.
“Several farms in the proximity of the dam are earmarked to be acquired for all the related purposes of actualising a large-scale irrigation project, such as servitude, the balancing dam, water distribution infrastructure and the irrigation area,” the minister said.
He said the government has been engaging landowners since 2014 and several sale agreements have been concluded.
The government has been working on setting up a 5 000-hectare irrigation scheme along the Neckartal Dam for the production of high-value crops such as maize, wheat, vegetables, fruits and animal fodder.
Schlettwein said a feasibility study the ministry conducted in 2010 identified more than 5 000 hectares of irrigable land on the southern and northern sides of the B4 road, between Keetmanshoop and Lüderitz, east of Seeheim.
“The total area of irrigable land is, therefore, estimated to be approximately 4 250ha or 85% of the required 5 000ha. Additional suitable areas will still have to be confirmed to ensure a 5 000ha irrigation area,” he said.
The minister dismissed criticism that the government wasted money in acquiring unproductive land around the dam. Landless People’s Movement (LPM) leader Bernadus Swartbooi said the ministry bought 15 000ha for the irrigation scheme.
“It is our information that from the said 15 000ha of land acquired, only about 2 000ha is suitable for irrigation. This means about 13 000ha will be unused or underutilised,” Swartbooi said in a notice of questions to Schlettwein. “The money used to pay for the unsuitable irrigation land has gone to waste, while we are squeezed in a tight economic corner as a country.”
However, Schlettwein said the wasteland is where support infrastructure, such as for water distribution, will be built.
“Our decision to acquire the said farms was guided by the technical soil suitability assessment findings. Investment in and operation of the green schemes, entail a host of other ancillary infrastructure across the value chain for which land is needed.
“Hence, other value chain activities such as feedlots, cold rooms and intensive animal farming could be carried out on other portions of land which a layman’s eye could regard as wasteland,” said Schlettwein.
The Neckartal Dam, which was completed in 2019, is Namibia’s largest dam and is currently 100% full.
GREEN SCHEME MODEL
Swartbooi had also asked Schlettwein to explain how the irrigation scheme is going to benefit the people of //Kharas.
The ministry has revealed that the Neckartal irrigation scheme will be modelled along the green scheme programme.
The Neckartal irrigation project falls under farming model 5.4 of the green scheme policy.
Under this policy, the ministry of agriculture obtains commercial farm land, develops it alone or jointly with a private investor, and the land is utilised by farmers with contract agreements with the ministry.
A smallholder component would be included on irrigation land developed by the state.
“I would like to inform you that the green scheme policy is clear on the modality and participation of Namibians in the green scheme programme, including the people from //Kharas region,” Schlettwein said.
Therefore, out of the envisaged 5 000ha, a designated portion of land will be earmarked for allocation to medium and small-holder farmers.
“Interested agro-entrepreneurs from the //Kharas region and other regions of the country could participate at the time of competitive allocation.
“While the mode of operation may be different and enhanced, it is prudent to realise that the Neckartal irrigation scheme will be a national asset, like other state-owned schemes such as Ndonga Linena, Orip, Etunda, Naute and Hardap schemes,” he said.