Bush Project Seeks Funds

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Efforts to combat bush encroachment that has already drastically reduced the carrying capacity of land are gaining momentum. A stakeholder group that put their heads together earlier this year to find ways of getting rid of the bush in order to free up more land for productivity has drawn up a proposal which will be submitted to the National Planning Commission (NPC) for funding under the European Development Fund’s Rural Poverty Reduction Programme (RPRP). The group, started by Otillie and her husband Dr Kenneth Abrahams has formulated a project proposal entitled Combating Bush Encroachment for Namibia’s Development (C-Bend). It centres on the production of electricity from invader bush, which affects 26 million hectares of land in Namibia. Bush encroachment has been described as the single most restraining factor hampering sustainable livestock production and improved living standards in rural areas. A report on bush encroachment indicates that due to this problem, the carrying capacity of land has been reduced from one large stock unit per 10 hectares to one large stock unit per 20 to 30 hectares. The project will entail the production of electricity from invader bush using wood gasifiers and gen-sets. The group investigated other possible uses for the invader bush, such as the production of chipboard and game fodder, but for this project proposal, it decided to narrow its focus to one application which has a very large market potential: electricity generation. The project proposes an investment of N$15 million in equipment, training and awareness raising, and project management. The electricity generation infrastructure would have a lifespan of 20 years and would generate 0.7 MW of electricity. Approximately 60 people would be trained and employed, including a number of women. According to Robert Schultz of the Desert Research Foundation Namibia (DRFN), the fact that electricity is becoming increasingly expensive makes the project even more meaningful. Schultz said: “Electricity generation makes more sense because it eats up bush.” He pointed out that the project would reach break-even stage in year 4 for the IPP (independent power producer), whereas the project as a whole (including the agricultural benefits) would break even already in the second year of operation. He said the project would reach break-even point at four years for agricultural productivity and five years for electricity. It is estimated that 2 200 hectares of invader bush will be cut in a year, which translates into 44 000 hectares of bush being cut at the end of the project. The overall objective of the project is land productivity, food security, social stability and improved livelihoods in Namibia, while the specific objectives are to have the unemployed, misemployed and underemployed from selected areas, actively reclaiming bush encroached land in an economically viable, attractive and environmentally sustainable manner. According to the project logical framework, the objectively verifiable indicators of achievement would include a 50-percent increase in meat production from de-bushed farmland, new small and medium enterprise and business initiatives established, and electricity generation. Furthermore, the project would have the important feature of establishing a template for an economically viable and environmentally sustainable bush harvesting and utilisation enterprise – one that could be repeated and expanded many times over in the future and thus fulfil the group’s objective of making a significant impact on both bush encroachment and unemployment. Due to bush encroachment, areas south of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF) have seen a steady decline in cattle numbers from 2.6 million in 1956 to around 900 000 at present in both commercial and communal areas combined. Areas that have a high intensity of the invader bush are Epukiro, Grootfontein, Okahandja, Okondjatu, Outjo, Tsumeb, Windhoek, Okakarara, Otjituuo and Otjiwarongo. More than 400 bushes per hectare have an adverse effect on land productivity but in areas such as Tsumeb and Otavi, there are around 200 000 bushes per hectare, which does not give a chance for anything else on the land.