By Wezi Tjaronda
Efforts to find ways of combating invader bush have culminated in a
bush-to-power project that may start operating in June if all goes according to plan.
The project – Combating Bush Encroachment for Namibia’s Development (C-Bend) – is a collaborative effort of three organizations, namely, the Desert Research Foundation Namibia, Namibia Agricultural Union and Namibia National Farmers’ Union. Plans are for it to be implemented between 2007 and 2008, after the EU-funded Rural Poverty Reduction Programme provisionally approved financing the project.
The project will be located in one of the areas with a high density of invader bush around the north-central areas of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein.
Other conditions of the project site will be the proximity of the areas to electricity, where the generated power can be fed into the national grid and the willingness of farmers around those areas to have their farms used.
C-Bend’s fact sheet says that Namibia’s bush-to-electricity energy potential in bush-infested areas lies in using available electricity-generating technologies and applying ecological management principles that can generate between 0.5 and 2.5 MWh per hectares per year.
At a sustainable yield of 2 MWh per hectare, some 1.5 million hectares of bush harvested each year would ensure that Namibia’s entire annual electricity consumption of 3 000 GWh is generated.
Studies conducted in 2000 assessed both large-scale (10-30 MW) and small-scale (0.2 – 0.5 MW) biomass technologies, and although both were found to be technically feasible, the economic feasibility was undermined because of cheaper electricity imports from South Africa.
But the current situation of lack of generation capacity and energy security as well as technology developments present new opportunities for the introduction of small-scale decentralised wood gasification technologies.
A 0.5MW wood gasification plant costs over N$4 million and produces 3 500 MWh per hectare and taking into account sales of N$0.3 per KWh, annual revenues from the sale of electricity would yield some N$1 million. This would also result in an increased carrying capacity of debushed land and also yield additional income.
At a meeting on Bio-Energy recently, DRFN’s Detlof von Oertzen said the project would also address productivity issues, job creation and improved livelihoods.
“Poverty statistics are shocking. We face an uncertain energy future while we have a very high unemployment rate,” he said, adding that the project gave the country a unique opportunity to address local problems with local solutions.
“This is a first tiny step to use local resources in finding solutions,” he added.
He said the project has the endorsement of the country’s power utility, Nampower, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Namibia Women’s Association and the regional councils.
Studies indicate that 26 million hectares of agricultural land are infested with bush encroachment, therefore preventing the growth of useful grass species and compaction of soil in the bush encroached areas.
This has reduced the land’s carrying capacity resulting in reduced cattle numbers over the years and leading to economic losses of N$700 million every year.
C-Bend aims at assessing the actual economics and developing the best management practices for rural bush-to-energy, which paves the way for the introduction of such technologies in rural communities and areas.
Apart from generating electricity, invader bush is a resource from which animal fed, charcoal products, chipboards and bush blocks can be produced.
Although there are other methods to limit bush encroachment such as herbicides, use of browsers, fire, stumping or felling and bulldozing among others, many of these methods have been found to be so costly that farmers say it is cheaper to buy another farm than to debush.
The objective of the project is to get a bush-to-electricity enterprise up and running and through the enterprise hopefully change the perception that invader bush is a nuisance.
The bush will be harvested sustainably as a resource in a way that it can be re-harvested in future.