Strategies to prevent drought-hit Kunene from becoming an uninhabitable and barren piece of land should be implemented sooner rather than later, as by 2020 it may be too late, says Namibia’s leading desertification expert Dr Axel Routhage.
As more attention is steadily being drawn to the drought-stricken Kunene Region with the worrying situation even coming up for debate in parliament recently, Routhage, an independent consultant with AgriConsult, explains that the Kunene is not just experiencing another drought, but that desertification has been advancing relentlessly in the region for decades.
Desertification is the depletion of ecosystem services due to the degradation of natural resources, for example, declining grazing capacity, receding groundwater reserves and soil loss due to erosion.
Routhage’s stern warning about the Kunene becoming a wasteland comes four years before the year 2020, which has been set as a key date in the National Action Programme (NAP3) to implement the United Nations’ Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The irony is that Kunene produces about 40 percent of Namibia’s electricity and all of its hydropower, yet most of its rural areas are still not electrified, because electricity is exported from the region.
This situation was described as the ”tragedy of the commons” during the first ever Kunene desertification meeting held at Opuwo last year, where chiefs, headmen, senior tribal elders and advisors, local and regional officials and scientific experts were in attendance.
Well-known causes, such as over-utilisation of the rangeland because of high concentration of livestock, as well as continuous grazing and trampling by livestock were cited.
The EU and its member states have provided €9.5 billion (about N$130 billion) of climate finance globally, including over €6 million to support eight projects to mitigate and adapt to climate change in Namibia.
Among these is the project to combat desertification in the northern Kunene Region, implemented by AgriConsult Namibia and also supported by the FNB Foundation.
Mildred Kambinda, the agriculture ministry’s deputy director of extension in the northwest, emphasised that lowering the vulnerability of rural populations to worsening environmental conditions is critical, as global warming is expected to make Namibia hotter and drier, with more violent rainstorms that may result in more serious flooding.
Staff members of the ministry’s seven agricultural development centres in northern Kunene are expected to play their part to raise awareness of the problem among local farmers and conservancy members.
Anti-desertification measures dovetail neatly with the minimum till policy recently adopted by the ministry in its comprehensive programme of conservation agriculture.
Application of modern and water-wise agricultural production and rangeland management techniques were identified as a priority, requiring exposure and intensive training and mentoring of local land users (farmers and conservancy members), says Rothauge.
Encouraging alternative livelihoods that are not dependent on the land thus making people less dependent on deteriorating natural resources provides another option.
This requires skills development and the “seeding” of appropriate industries (for example, dress-making, tourism, service industries) that can employ local people at a living wage, in accordance with Namibia’s Vision 2030 to become an industrialised, knowledge-driven society in a few years’ time.
The role of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Namibia Business Innovation Institute, as well as the SME Bank and Development Bank to facilitate SME development in the Opuwo area was highlighted in this regard.
This requires the electrification of rural areas as access to electricity enables people to move away from agricultural subsistence.
This needs to be addressed by enforcing existing laws that encourage owners of large herds (more than 150 large or 800 small stock) to leave communal grazing areas and acquire their own farms under the resettlement policy and affirmative action loan scheme.
Local people are aware of the problem, as it impacts their livelihoods negatively and they are suffering the consequences of the desertification of their environment. Many are eager to do something about it.
It was thus resolved that under the leadership of the governor’s office, a strategy to counter desertification and promote sustainable land management in the northern part of the Kunene Region should be designed in follow-up meetings.
This strategy should make use of the opportunities offered by NAP3, such as offering Kaokoveld as a focal landscape to halt and reverse degradation and desertification, and to strengthen communities and ecosystems to mitigate the impacts of drought (Outcome 4 of NAP3, by 2024).
The FNB Foundation has approved a sponsorship of N$125 000 per year for three years to address the symptoms of desertification in the Kunene Region. Rothauge implemented this project, while more funding has been forthcoming from the EU.
FNB intends to continue its commitment to support alternative energy sources by installing solar power plants in its new FNB head office building and at branches across the country. Over the last four years FNB has facilitated a UN development programme under which 300 low-interest loans have been granted to fund installation of solar power.
Rothauge says the obvious signs of environmental degradation include bush encroachment, believed to affect 80-85% of Namibia’s land area, and soil erosion.
Rothauge further says it could take 20 to 25 years to rehabilitate an area that has been ‘abused’ to such an extent that erosion gullies have formed.
“We need to implement rotational grazing, while at the same time training and educating fellow Namibians about desertification. These problems arise because most people are ignorant and uninformed and this can be remedied.
“Together we need to create a greener future and I firmly believe that if we caused the problem, we can and must also solve the problem. If we have great soil, we have grass which leads to grazing and better-fed cattle and in the end it means people become richer and not poorer,” he concluded.