Walvis Bay Salt Holding’s largest shipment in history has recently sailed to Belgium. Could you speak of the Company’s continued growth and provide a few highlights from the past year?
Andre Snyman (AS): Walvis Bay Salt Holdings (WBSH) is going through an exciting time and our new focus is value addition, both locally and internationally. In the salt industry, as in many other minerals, efficiency of freight and transport are essential for success. We are focused on optimizing the logistics value chain, including finding the right freight options that can result in competitive freight costs and open up new markets for us.
We have an excellent product in terms of quality. We used to trade in markets within Africa but felt the need to expand our horizons, and are now looking at new international markets such as North America, Brazil and Europe. The WBSH Board has recently approved the expansion of our capacity by over 200,000 metric tons (mt), resulting in an annual capacity of nearly one million mt. We are continuously working on our strategy to install and implement the latest proven technologies to ramp up efficiencies and productivity.
As part of our drive to enhance local value addition, we have recently invested in a new salt refinery to produce salt for human consumption.
Which markets is WBSH looking to target within the continent?
AS: We currently sell into Cameroon, Nigeria, and South Africa and are focusing on growing within Angola and Zambia, given that they are neighbouring countries. As an example, Angola has a population of over 16 million, which in itself is a relatively large market.
We currently export refined product to South Africa, and though a small amount does reach Zambia and Angola, there is opportunity to increase this. The group is currently looking to buy a leading salt brand so that we can operate with a strong brand name.
Have you noticed any gaps within the current regulatory framework in Namibia?
AS: At the moment we are investigating exports into Brazil, but certain challenges in terms of tax structures exist. On the other hand, the regulatory environment is quite supportive for local manufacturers in terms of tax incentives.
As a separate matter, the country’s power deficit is a serious problem, as is the case in southern Africa in general. We are currently looking at the possibility of installing a solar system. Though road infrastructure in Namibia is generally quite solid, the railway system is still incredibly unreliable, so we have to do everything by road.
The company supports the Government’s strategy to enhance local value addition through its “Growth at Home” initiative. In this regard the country is certainly heading in the right direction.
Is the skilled labour shortage in Namibia posing a challenge for WBSH’s operations?
AS: Finding the right skills in the country is a challenge. It is one of our strategies to develop and train our people on a continuous basis. Teaching local workers is a part of our social responsibility model, to do our part in raising the standard within the country.
WBSH has a long history of CSR work in Namibia. Could you highlight some of the activities you are involved with at the moment in this area?
AS: Historically we used to support schools financially, but we’ve decided to take a more pro-active role in the way the funding is applied in future.
Given the vast need in Namibia for engineers and technicians, we are focusing more on maths and science education and literacy. Both Namibia and South Africa have consistent sub-standard performance in these subjects, so we are now, amidst other initiatives, assisting a structured program for teachers to learn how to teach maths and science successfully to their students.
Where does WBSH aim to be in the medium-term?
AS: Walvis Bay Salt Holdings has a definite dream to become a world-class sea salt producer and the leading salt producer in Africa in the short-term. We want to establish the Company in terms of our unrivalled efficiency and leading technology.
WBSH is a proud Namibian company that values people and we want to continue growing steadily on a local and an international platform. Salt may not be a high-value commodity, but the strategy is linked to volumes. In 100 years, when many mines might have closed down, we will still be here because we are operating a renewable system.
Walvis Bay Salt Holdings is celebrating its half-a-century anniversary this year and will still be here 50 years from now.