It has lowered the livestock capacity of rangeland by up to two-thirds, resulting in severely reduced bio-diversity and limiting the recharge of groundwater.
Despite the negative impacts, encroacher bush has developed into a huge biomass resource, estimated at about 300 million tonnes. It’s against this background that the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) embarked on the Support to De-bushing Pilot Project in 2014 in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
The project is to run until next year and aims to strengthen the restoration of productive rangeland in Namibia. It also identifies value chain opportunities to trigger large-scale de-bushing activities.
The focus of the de-bushing project is closely aligned to the National Industrial Policy of 2012 and the Growth at Home Strategy, which promote domestic value addition for local resources.
The project will foster institutional development in the biomass sector and provide support to improve the legal and regulatory framework for large-scale bush control.
The Namibian economy stands to benefit with about N$42 billion over a 20-year period, due to productivity increases in especially the agricultural sector if we utilise encroacher bush, says Dagmar Hönsbein, executive director of the Namibian Biomass Industry Group (N-BIG).
Hönsbein says bush encroachment and the wood-based biomass sector go hand-in-hand, like a problem goes hand-in hand with an innovative solution. With recent studies suggesting the affected figure is closer to 45 million hectares, Namibia could clear the path to prosperity and rake in in excess of N$40 billion over the next 20 years.
“The realisation of this substantial economic gain is only limited by the scale of harvesting and utilisation of our bush resource and the timeframe of such utilisation. Other direct and indirect requirements for sustainable bush utilisation includes technology development, market development, capacity building, and job creation, commensurate with wealth creation,” she notes.
In 2015/16, the demand for invader bush biomass and its related products stands at an estimated 200 000 tonnes per annum, which equates to about only 0.08 percent of the national annual potential. Additionally, only 32 percent of the current demand is being met, due primarily to supply constraints.
Demand is also expected to grow exponentially, driven by further export market development. The existing biomass sector focuses on primary production, with few activities in terms of further value addition. This also relates to limited mechanisation or technological advancements.
The GIZ-supported project focuses on de-bushing programmes that consist of surveys of specific areas and seeks to determine the best method of de-bushing with a clear understanding of the impact on the environment.
It also seeks to determine the best post-harvest value adding application as a method to cover or reduce costs and the best aftercare method to prevent re-growth.
The programme has completed five best harvesting methods for Namibia, with emphasis on environmental considerations. It has also made recommendations for prospective biomass producers, as well as recommendations on adding value to Namibian encroacher bush harvesting.
Bush material can be used as firewood and as fossil fuels, such as coal or oil in industrial boilers and power plants. The agricultural sector can use biomass as feed for cattle or wild animals, or as fertiliser for crop production and the construction industry can use biomass to produce building materials such as chipboards and wood panels.
The pilot project builds on existing farmers’ knowledge and the assessment of bush-based fodder from nutritional and economic standpoints. The field research comprises of different pilot sites, which aim to assess the whole value chain through relevant research trials and analytical data.
The Support to De-bushing Project included eight farms northwest of Otjiwarongo in the study. These farms represent an area of some 45 000 hectares. A total of 30 woody species (bushes and shrubs) were recorded in the survey and were divided into three groups: desirable species, problematic species and potentially problematic species.