Namibia: Women make a living selling dried grasses and lucerne

| December 15, 2014

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Every day, Lovisa Nelago Shalihu takes shelter from the hot sun and waits eagerly for customers. The forty-five-year-old woman sits under a makeshift canopy thrown together from wooden poles and old sacks. Ms. Shalihu is surrounded by bags of dried grass and lucerne which people purchase for animal fodder and roofing materials.

She sells her products from her stall, by the side of a busy road a few kilometres north of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city. She and other women with roadside stalls use their earnings from selling grasses and lucerne to buy food and other household essentials.

The plants grow in a riverbed about ten kilometres away, and Ms. Shalihu and the other women must transport their harvests to their stalls by foot. Farmers pay $5 Namibian [50 U.S. cents] for a 10-kilogram bag. They mix the nutritious lucerne with the grass before feeding it to their livestock.

Photo credit: Alvine Kapitako

Photo credit: Alvine Kapitako

Competition has grown stiffer since Ms. Shalihu started her business. Over the last year, several stalls have popped up on her stretch of the highway. She says: “Customers [can] buy from any one of us. But, last year we had many [more] customers [than] this year.” Some regular customers try to support as many of the women as possible by buying from each one in turn.

Mainstream stores charge at least eight times more for the grasses and lucerne; the shores sell higher quality materials.

But many farmers continue to buy from the women. Benjamin Ashipala says he supports the women because he wants them to sustain their families. He explains: “Drought in Namibia is unpredictable, so I buy [here] to stock up. I use it as fodder for my animals.”

Angelina Matheus is another roadside seller. She started in the trade because she was unemployed. She says, “I am able to buy food for myself and my family with the money I earn from this business.”

Mrs. Matheus says customers buy her grass and lucerne because they are unable to grow it themselves. She says: “Namibia experienced drought last year. Many farmers did not know what to feed their livestock as the grass on their farms was overgrazed.”

Some people have other uses for the lucerne. Mrs. Matheus explains, “People who live in villages and farms … use the lucerne to make huts.”

Ms. Shalihu has picked up a basic knowledge of farming just by talking to her customers. She says: “One farmer recently asked me to gather … seeds … so that he can go and plant at his farm. It is not difficult to plant grass and lucerne … all a farmer needs is to take the seeds and throw them on the ground. When it rains, the grass will grow.”

Ms. Shalihu is grateful to the friend who introduced her to the trade. She says she no longer needs to borrow money when she visits relatives.

But roadside sales can be unpredictable. Ms. Shalihu can make up to $1,000 Namibian [$100 U.S.] in a month, but her income varies. She says: “A day can go by without customers passing to buy from me. But I do not give up hope. I keep coming back here to harvest and sell the dry grass and lucerne.”