Namibia has the potential and is poised to enable a programme of improved rangeland management in local level land use planning and improved marketing conditions in communal areas.
This is true for the northern communal areas (NCAs) – where restrictions on marketing, farmers’ perspectives and current practices make improved rangeland management extremely challenging.
Hailing Namibia’s highly innovative Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy (NRMPS), Colin Nott, rangeland expert of Conservation Agriculture Namibia (CAN), was one of many speakers who yesterday painted a positive picture of recovery for the country’s deteriorating rangelands when he explained the unique policy on the first day of the 20th National Rangeland Forum at a lodge on the outskirts of Windhoek.
Nott said Namibia’s rangeland policy’s most significant departure from other policies throughout the world is that it does not promote or support fixed stocking rates and fixed rotational rangeland management.
“Rangelands are deteriorating in all dry climates of the world – irrespective of whether the country is classified as ‘developed’ or ‘developing.’ Namibia is no exception with severe rangeland degradation having taken place and continuing to take place on all land types, including communal and commercial lands and parks. The communal areas of Namibia continue to degrade,” he noted.
“Dry climates by definition have variable rainfall within and between seasons, resulting in varying grass production per year and therefore not being able to support a fixed number of animals over time. The NRMPS has potential to reverse rangeland degradation at national level,” he said.
The paper discusses the deviation of the NRMPS principles from broader worldwide practices and views. It further investigates the additional challenges experienced in the communal area setting and proposes solutions and processes to address these challenges.
“This programme has the potential to align with and create synergies with other well-documented success stories in Namibia – including the communal area conservancy movement, community forest products, high value plant products and water resources,” he concluded.
Dr Ben Norton, Emeritus Associate Professor, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, USA explained sustainable grazing management from a global perspective, saying sorting out the mechanisms by which rotational grazing has benefited forage and livestock production has been one of the challenges facing grazing ecologists over the past 50 years.
He answered some of the toughest questions about rangeland management with illustrations of examples from around the world.
Richard Fynn, rangeland and grazing ecosystem ecologist, Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, said optimal grazing management should set aside a significant proportion of the ranch as a reserve of ungrazed forage for the dormant season.
Such approaches also focus grazing intensity on the grazed portion of the ranch, which enables livestock to maintain short, high quality grassland over the growing season.
“In addition, forcing livestock to rotate across the ranch in small, restrictive paddocks eliminates the ability of livestock to forage adaptively to functional heterogeneity of resources distributed across larger landscapes. We discuss how these concepts can be incorporated into grazing management, giving some examples from case studies,” he said.
The impact of grazing (defoliation) and drought (moisture stress) on the root growth of grass plants, and the importance of rest – a study by Prof. Herman Snyman, Department of Animal, Game and Grassland Science, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein – was presented by Leon G. Lubbe – Sub-division Pasture Science, Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
He stressed that regular overgrazing has a profound negative effect on root growth and development and impairs the ability of the grass plant to utilize the full spectrum of the soil profile.
This is aggravated if combined with an increased frequency of defoliation. Poorly developed root systems are a major reason why plants become drought sensitive. Research has shown that the negative effect of regular defoliation on the production of plants is carried over to the following season.
“The combined effect of both defoliation and water stress, combined with low and intermittent rainfall, makes for an unsustainable grazing ecosystem. In any rangeland utilisation system, plants must receive sufficient rest in order to effectively compete for water and nutrients. It is argued that adequate rest is essential as a countermeasure for the negative effects of regular defoliation and water stress. A full growing season rest after grasses were regularly defoliated may not be sufficient, even though moisture conditions may be ideal,” he said.