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Namibia: Grape grower's biggest challenge is heat and dust

Aussenkehr is thebiggest grape producing region in Namibia. Development started only20 years ago, making it a relatively new production area and the valley still has the feeling of a frontier town, a long way from civilization. It is the earliest region in the southern hemisphere and this has helped it to benefit from an empty European market

The climateis ideal for growing grapes as it is a hot arid desert climate whereit seldom rains. The climate reduces the need for pesticides but ofcourse a guaranteed water supply is essential. This comes from theOrange River which has always had a plentiful supply, until thisyear.

The river level is at an all time low and growers are waiting for water which has been released in South Africa to reach the valley; there werediffering expectations as to when the water would arrive. Namibia hasan agreement with South Africa on this release of water, it should bereleased only when it is needed in the valley but with the prolongeddrought in South Africa it was taking a bit longer.

Water is not the biggest concern in Assenkher however; in order for the companies there toexpand they need to have more electricity to work the pumps whichbring the water to the vineyards and to power the packhouses. Therehas been a big improvement on last year when they had constant powercuts; there have been none so far this season. A new power stationhas been built and should be working very soon, allowing the growersto expand the plantations in the coming years.

Labour in not aproblem as there is a ready supply of people who travel down from thenorth of the country for the grape harvest each year, more than 20,000 people make the journey. They come down and build houses madefrom reeds which they cut from the river. The make-shift village ismade up from a combination of permanent workers and those just therefor the season.

One big distinctionbetween the growers is how they pack; some going for hi-tech systemswhile others are expanding field packing. There are compellingarguments for both.

It is said that thebiggest enemies in Aussemkehr are the dust and the heat, the dry climate and dirt roads together with the hot winds make for a dusty environment.

The season isexpected to be shorter, with a lot of volumes coming in at the sametime but quality is very good.