“We want to prove that agriculture can succeed in harsh conditions and then we can replicate this concept elsewhere,” says Christopher Kahle, Managing Director of Shalom Farm outside Swakopmund.

After driving for kilometre after kilometre watching dry bush turn into sandy soil from Windhoek to the coast, seeing the first green tree-tops of the olive groves of the Swakopmund River Plots, provides instant relief for sore eyes. But that is nothing compared to the amazement of standing in a wellventilated tunnel looking at the smiling faces of hundreds of colourful gerberas or bending down to touch the tender petals of a bright yellow rose to make sure it is real.

Shalom Farm is the flagship project of AvaGro Namibia. It was an olive farm when purchased four years ago, and the 1 300 olive trees still provide a mixture of table olives and olives for oil extraction sold under the Shalom brand. The olives and olive oil are prominent ingredients on the menu of the farm’s bistro and at the farmers’ market every Saturday, now supplemented with a variety of fresh vegetables grown in the 21 greenhouses and on every little patch of land on the eight hectare plot.

“Each greenhouse is 336 m2 in size, and six more tunnels are being built,” says Christopher.

At the end of this road through the oldest desert in the world, there is a little piece of paradise.

They focus on the production of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the greenhouses, with spinach, other leafy greens and herbs in the open patches. The growth medium used is imported coco coir, and the plants are cultivated in bags or beds. Coco coir is a neutral medium with a high water holding capacity, it is heat stabilising and has high levels of porosity, which makes it ideal for farming in challenging environmental conditions. Even run-off water is utilised for planting herbs, thereby making the most of every drop.

Excellent yields are attained under the watchful eye of Chief Agronomist, Ranjit Patil. They harvest six tonnes of tomatoes, three tonnes of peppers and ten thousand pieces of cucumber per greenhouse per season (comprising six months).

Soluble fertilisers are applied in various mixes through the drip irrigation system, and a pest management programme is followed. Establishing the farm was not without its challenges, one of the most crucial ones being the quality of the water. Christopher says the farm has access to 80 000 litres of water per day, of which about half is being used at the moment. The availability of the water is not the problem, but it is too brackish to grow vegetables. A huge reverse osmosis machine, capable of handling the quantity of water, proved to be the most important investment to turn the desert farm into an oasis.

“We must also be ready when the east wind comes,” says Christopher.

The sturdy greenhouses are testimony to the strength needed to withstand the elements. The greenhouses are supplied by AvaGro, along with a number of other products and services offered to local farmers. AvaGro provides guidance on unique crop inputs and customised, efficient water-use systems; supply chain improvements; skill enhancement training and support in unlocking finance and markets for smallholder farmers.

Christopher Kahle has been running the Shalom farm for a year now, and he is eager to expand the business and replicate the model elsewhere.

Other services include general land assessment, water sample analysis, soil sample analysis and regional weather data analysis. Christopher says they support farmers in adopting climate wise farming methods and establishing vegetable production to such an extent that, together, they can reach a critical mass to supply the local market and also export high income crops.

“Farmers need to come together and share costs and services if they want to become important role players in agriculture in the region,” he says.

“It is not possible or necessary for every farmer to buy a huge, expensive filtering system. When we come together, we can share the system, and all enjoy the benefit of usable water.”

Vegetables from the 21 greenhouses and open land patches on Shalom farm are being sold mainly to retail stores in Swakopmund and other coastal towns.