Participants from across professions and organisations come together today at the Out of Africa Lodge in Otjiwarongo to exchange latest insights around improving the productivity of the grasslands and livestock in Namibia at the 19th Namibian Rangeland Forum.
The theme for this year is ‘Adapting to climate unpredictability and climate change along the whole value chain.’ The three-day event comes at a crucial time for Namibia which is in the grip of yet another drought that has devastated rangelands across the face of the country, where agricultural production is mostly rain-fed and therefore vulnerable to climate change.
Namibia is already facing short growing seasons for crops and the decrease in the number of consecutive wet days will shorten the growing season even more. The livestock sector is expected to be especially affected by changes in the quality and quantity of vegetation and availability of fodder while further being affected by heat stress of the animals and the occurrence of climate related diseases. The phenomenon of bush encroachment, which has taken root in Namibia due to poor rangeland management practises, has already had a significant impact on the productivity of Namibia’s rangelands. Increased carbon dioxide levels continue to accelerate climate change which is expected to increase risk and further increase bush encroachment over time.
The influence of climate change on the Namibian agricultural sector, therefore calls for improved land use practices, like improved rangeland management, minimum tillage and conservation agriculture, and water harvesting. This situation prompted the government’s adoption of the National Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy (NRMPS) during 2012. The NRMPS contains sound rangeland management principles intending to improve rangeland management. Although the implementation of the NRMPS is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), it clearly stipulates that private sector and other stakeholders should be actively involved in the implementation process to ensure success.
Farms in Namibia today hold half the number of livestock that they did in the 1950s. National meat production is in decline and the livestock industry as a whole is in a crisis situation as a result of a declining resource base, says Colin Nott, local rangeland expert who was part of the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia (MCA-N)’s Community Based Rangeland and Livestock Management (CBRLM) policy.
Nott, who will be one of many local, and international speakers from as far as Australia, told Farmers Forum that while tension is building between scientists and farmers as to whether the current dry spell is a natural phenomenon caused by our low rainfall and variable climate or whether the drought is man-induced, both arguments are valid.
“But more importantly, these arguments can be avoided by not declaring a drought but by declaring a fodder shortage. “What perennial grasses in particular need to flourish is simple – but we are failing at a national level to provide them with a conducive environment for their productivity to be expressed. It could be said that we are doing almost everything we can to ensure perennial grass plants (the basis of a healthy livestock industry) have no future in Namibia as a whole. Should this trend be allowed to continue, the country will face unprecedented social and political problems,” he notes.
The purposes of the Rangeland Forum are as follows:
• Facilitate the coming together of farmers, decision makers, support agencies and donors in the rangeland sector to expose them to key note presentations and enable discussions on key topics.
• Facilitate participants of the Forum to visit farms that enable key messages to be experienced and discussed.
The European Union is supporting various actions in Namibia on Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, including the Rangeland Forum.