Creating Opportunities for New Farmers

How a Mother and Son Duo is Using Biomass Through a Group Scheme to Continue their Family Farming Dream

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Johanna Intamba

Remodeling of tenure rights and redistribution of land, using a willing buyer and willing seller method and for the benefit of the landless and the previously disadvantaged, is what the Namibian Government Resettlement Programme is about. Johanna Intamba and her husband, were eager to become farmers and began searching, “we had been looking for a piece of land from the Government Resettlement Programme but could not get one.” Initially they found a farm they could rent and that would become available to buy soon.  Then, just as their dreams were falling into place, tragedy struck as Johanna’s husband passed away in the same year the farm became available to purchase. Johanna however, decided to continue in her own capacity, with their shared dream. “I bought the farm with the loan from Agribank and registered it in my name. But from there I had to now start paying Agribank back.”

Farm Guiganab is close to Grootfontein, in the Otjozondjupa Region of central Namibia. As she explains, “I’m a cattle farmer, and I’ve been a cattle farmer since 2012. In 2019 we lost about seventy cattle due to drought. There was no rain and again last year is when the corona pandemic started. My son is the one that introduced me to charcoal” says Johanna who adds that they might have had difficulty in repaying their loans without their charcoal business during these difficult times.

Johanna’s son Matti and His Charcoal Production

“I was a student when my father passed away. I decided to leave my studies and go to the farm. In the beginning, I used Google, to find out what to do on the farm, and then I started visiting and talking to my neighbours. I was finding out what type of projects they are doing, since we have a similar type of soil. Most of them were talking about charcoal” explains Matti Intamba.

“That’s when I approached my mother and said, ‘I think we need to do this.’ This was in 2016, and slowly but surely I started with a few kilns. I struggled in the beginning and my mother said that if I quit school, I have to help with the expenses. After we got our first income (from the charcoal), I just invested it back into more kilns. More kilns, more equipment for workers, more housing. It’s now five years later.”

Matti Intamba proudly shows off their charcoal production
Matti Intamba proudly shows off their charcoal production

Matti explains that in the beginning of their charcoal venture, “the purpose was income. Initially I wasn’t actually going to start during the time of the drought, it was Frank Detering at Carbo Namibia, who told me that there had been a bad frost on my farm in 2014, and a lot of the trees there are actually dead wood. So, I brought in some experts that confirmed that indeed there were a lot of dead wood on the farm.”    

Finding Markets for Their Product

Johanna and Matti decided to join the Carbo Namibia Group Scheme. This meant that they had a local buyer for their product, as Johanna explains, “when I started to export, it was a challenge. Even the payment was a challenge. Now we are with Carbo and it’s just the best. Local is better, it’s smooth and there is no problem.”

Joining the Carbo Namibia Group Scheme also meant that Johanna and Matti had to become Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. This means that as producers, Johanna and Matti would ensure they harvest in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner and also that they would practice good social responsibility in providing their workers with healthy working and living conditions.

According to Johanna, “there are a lot of regulations and it is important to comply with them. You need houses for the workers, you need toilets and showers for the workers, you need first aid kits and lots of things like that. It might cost money, but it is worth it. Since I’ve become FSC certified, I am no longer struggling to find a buyer for my charcoal.”

Matti adds that, “the workers see the commitment, and with the commitment and so long as you are transparent with them, you’ll have happy workers.”

Plans for the Future

Johanna works in public service and plans to join Matti full-time on the farm in the next three years. As Johanna explains, “Matti is the Manager on the farm, and we are planning to expand, I am hoping to do some horticulture in the future.”

Learning as they go, Johanna explains, “what I have seen is that I have done quite a lot compared to when I started. I have done a lot and learnt a lot. I have also learnt where I made mistakes and I am still learning. When I started here I was not even thinking about charcoal, or firewood or clearing a piece of land for vegetables. But it grows and you never know where it will go.”

Matti too, has many plans for the future of their farm, including tapping into new biomass ventures such as biochar. “The purpose of the bush thinning is to create enough space and currently we are still very thick. It will be a couple more years before we are done.

Matti standing next to one of the farms kilns

This mother and son duo are a shining example of the power of working together to advance where you are. As Matti concludes, “If I compare to the other years, when there was nothing, I am happy. Now we have different projects going on and at the same time we are creating employment.”

Further sources:

Watch the FSC International series of videos on Certified Charcoal Production in Namibia

Read up on the FSC Southern African website about 1.6 million hectares of FSC certified land in Namibia since April 2020

Download the NCA Charcoal Best Practice Guide of 2018

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