Environment clears tobacco project

THE N$14 billion tobacco and maize project mooted for the Zambezi region has received environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

A Chinese company, Namibia Oriental Tobacco cc has applied for 10 000 hectares in the Zambezi Region for tobacco and maize production.
Last month, Swapo Oshikoto regional coordinator Armas Amukwiyu told The Namibian that he spent a good number of years in China looking for potential investors for the project, which he says is his brainchild. Amukwiyu said he has been at the helm of the project that was supposed to have started last year.

A letter seen by The Namibian addressed to the company from the environment ministry shows that the project still needs to receive authorisation for clearing of a state forest from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.Authorisation for water abstraction should also be obtained from the department of water affairs in the same ministry.

“The environmental assessment impact and environment management plan submitted are sufficient as they make provision for the environmental management concerning the proposed activities,” the letter read. It further said regular environment monitoring and evaluations on environmental performance should be conducted on site. 

The ministry also attached legislative and regulatory conditions which should be followed during the operational phase of the project. “This environmental clearance certificate does not in anyway hold the Ministry of Environment and Tourism accountable for any wrong or insufficient information, nor any adverse effects that may arise from this project activity. Instead, full accountability rests with the proponent and his/her consultants,” it further says.

The environmental clearance certificate is valid for a period of three years from date of issue, which in this case is 19 December 2014, unless withdrawn by the ministry. The environmental impact assessment submitted by Namibia Oriental Tobacco cc states that the primary purpose of the farm will be tobacco production, although maize will also be planted on a rotational basis in order to prevent or minimise the occurrence of tobacco related pests and diseases.

The company justified the project's production by stating that from 1995 to 1997 trials in tobacco production in Namibia's Omaheke, Oshikoto, Otjozondjupa, Okavango (East and West) and Omusati regions were conducted and they showed that tobacco could be a very profitable option. 

The project justification also said tobacco produced in Namibia can successfully fill the market niche created by the reduced production of tabacco in Zimbabwe. 

Last month, the Ministry of Lands and Resettlement carried an advertisement calling for objections to the Chinese company's application for land at Liselo.

Despite the hype caused by many, including the former minster of health Richard Kamwi, as well as deputy director of public health in the ministry, Benson Ntomwa who have spoken out against the allocation of land for tobacco production, a development planner from the land ministry in Katima Mulio, Gift Sinyepe, said his ministry only received two formal and valid objections.
Sinyepe said one is from the Affirmative Repositioning group which is led by suspended youth leader, Job Amupanda with other two youth leaders - George Kambala and Dimbulukeni Nauyoma - and the other from a community member. 

In their submitted objection last month, Amupanda said: “It cannot be correct that our most fertile land is used to produce drugs and not food.”

He said it is also alarming that government is distributing land to foreigners even in villages, adding “that tobacco contains nicotine, correlated with a dangerous condition called schizophrenia”. Amupanda said although government speaks of banning foreign ownership, “politicians are awarding land to foreigners under the table”. -tuyeimo@namibian.com.na