Creating rural wealth via sustainable agriculture in the communal areas of Namibia came under the spotlight again when Namibia celebrated International Cooperatives Day recently.
Many participants from rural areas at this year’s event expressed concern about the second drought to hit Namibia in two years, saying they fear for the future as production per hectare of major dry land crops is low and rarely commercially viable in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs).Crop plants for own use also yield generally poorly. For instance, mahangu on average yields just 300 kg per hectare. Poor tillage practices, ono-cropping and inadequate use of fertilisers and manure are main contributors to poor yields. Al crop residues are utilizes by livestock, resulting in soils low organic matter and cover, and therefore prone to erosion.
Incorrect tillage practices cause severe soil compaction, poor infiltration and ow crop yields. Low yields require large areas to be planted, but then the effort in relation to the yield ration is discouraging. Access to appropriate farming inputs is also limited in many of these cropping areas. Farmers are keen to adopt new technologies and have been actively participating in conservation agriculture. More than 12 000 crop farmers are now being trained in CA methods and record yields of more than three tonnes per hectare has already been recorded with mahangu by some of these farmers.
The message from the NCAs remain that unless crop yields improve, the most valuable rangeland may e used for cropping. The major advantage of using livestock to prepare crop fields is that soil fertility is maintained without any additional expense or labour. Living or dead plants can be used to keep the ground covered all year and to protect both the soil and the soil life, while at the same time retaining water and nutrients. Livestock can then be used to break up the soil surface and crops can be rotated to increase diversity of root depth and nutrient utilisation.
Namibia specific CA methods have proven to increase moisture in the base furrow by some 75 percent, and this controlled furrow method is employed to allow for in-furrow build-up of fertility, soil organisms and moisture whilst avoiding compaction in the line where the plants are growing.
Another aspect of Namibia specific CA is crop rotation, using leguminous cow peas, mahangu, sorghum, maize and other crop pants. Unless yields are significantly improved on smaller areas of land the spread of low-yield crop field will take away the most valuable grazing land and will also demand labour that could be used for improved rangeland management practices.
Presentations at the International Cooperatives Day noted that animal impact addresses the immediate needs of food security for the community, and has a dual purpose, as it restores grazing as well as fertility of crop fields.