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The long cold road of the Namib Blues

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Saiba’s Namibia representative, Lehana Nel, shares the following story of a new business being born out of adversity.

Despite the harsh Covid lockdown, Namibia has found a novel way of generating revenue: for the first time in history, the country is exporting tons of blueberries.

The blueberries are grown near the Kavango River at Mashare Berries Farming, and are now being shipped to destinations in Europe by Transworld Cargo. The product is exported under the brand “Namib Blue” and is finding an enthusiastic market overseas.

On 6 October 2020, Mashare Berries Farming hit a major milestone when it it produced its 100th ton in its first year of production. The first seven tons were loaded on a Eurowing Airbus A330 in September 2020 and reached Frankfurt the next day. More shipments followed, finding their way into the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Russia and even Hong Kong. More blueberries than expected have also been sold locally.

The difficult part of distributing blueberries is the need to keep them at a temperature just above freezing all the way to their destination. Once harvested, the 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 berries are sensitive to pressure and temperatures, and have to be packed and sorted in cool rooms. The local workforce must wear warm clothes to survive the cold room while outside the temperatures can soar above 30˚C.

Once the boxes are filled, they are loaded into refrigerator trucks for transport to Hosea Kutako International Airport or destinations within Namibia. When on the road, the valuable cargo should be kept at a constant low temperature. The same conditions are maintained at the special holding facility at the airport where the berries arrive a few hours before the 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. Similarly, all equipment has to be washed before being used. The wearing of face masks on the fields and in the packing facility is a must in these times of Covid-19.

Packed into special containers, the Namib Blues are loaded into a Eurowing plane and reach Frankfurt 10 hours later. Temperatures are monitored all the way from the cool room at Mashare to the wholesaler on the northern hemisphere. The very low temperature is critical for the consumer to purchase tasty and fresh blue berries.

The success of this business venture was a collaborative effort Mashare Berries Farming, Transworld Cargo and logistics company NelSnel.

The business venture has benefited 450 rural women in the job-starved Kavango-East region, and plans are in place to expand this number in the coming year.

It is expected that the plants will produce more fruit next year on the 20-hectare field which is currently in production. It cost about 90 million Namibia Dollars to get the blueberry project off the ground. This was made possible with financial backing from private equity firm Königstein Capital.

It’s an example of how new business ventures are often born in adversity.

Story and photos by Dirk Heinrich