Land degradation a threat to development

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Windhoek

Various experts have expressed grave concern about the state of Namibia’s rangelands and the rate at which these life-giving soils are deteriorating.

Communal areas are degrading largely due to uncontrolled animal movement, the inability to enforce grazing plans, and uncontrolled fir events. Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), John Mutorwa, stresses the importance of diversification of income generating opportunities for rural Namibians, and to encourage better use of resources, thereby allowing a positive contribution to farming systems and household security within the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs). Mutorwa says this is in agreement with MAWF’s mandate from Vision 2030, which speaks of sustainable development and natural resources for continued development of the livestock sector. He says it is important to create an enabling environment to achieve the development of Namibia’s “natural capital” for the benefit of the country’s social, economic and ecological well-being.

A number of successive good rainfall years in the NCAs and the development of many permanent water points, have enabled livestock numbers to increase but poor rangeland management practices have resulted in severe degradation with the loss of most perennial grasses, increased bare soils and bush encroachment, and a decrease in production per hectare. The Baseline Survey on Animal Nutrition in the NCAs of Namibia, commissioned and completed in 2014, point out that some areas in the Kunene region have degraded to the extent where rehabilitation requires enormous and costly efforts. Still others may never regain their previous productivity. Kunene is feeling this year’s drought more than any other region as the area has not seen rain for the past four years.

People in the southern, western and eastern part of the country face very similar challenges, and have their own opportunities which, if recognised, can contribute to creative innovations in the agricultural development natural resource management and economic growth.

Soils have become depleted of organic material as a result of decades of poor management of both rangeland and crop fields. Low input mono-cropping, combined with the total removal of crop residues by livestock, led to lower and lower yields. Soils are seriously compacted and there is virtually no organic material going into the soil after the yearly removal of crop residues. Namibia’s ecology can only be described as fragile, and in addition to land degradation, the country’s biodiversity is seriously threatened by unsustainable water use, climate change, uncontrolled mining and prospecting and continued population growth. Unsustainable land management practices, alien invasive species and recreation activities and human wildlife conflict also have the same impact.

The harsh reality is that if Namibian livestock and crop producers stay on this destructive course, fertility will keep on dropping with the destruction of the soil’s micro-biology, while moisture retention is lessened, which is the first step towards desertification. This something that has already reared its ugly head in Kunene region and, to a lesser extent, in many other parts of Namibia.

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