Bush encroachment robs Namibia of billions each year

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Staff Reporter

Windhoek-After the first above average rainy season in more than three dry years bush encroachment now affects about 26 to 30 million hectares of farmland in eight of the country’s 13 regions. This amounts to roughly 30 percent of Namibia’s land area.

Bush encroachment severely reduces biodiversity and the formation of groundwater. It lowers the productivity and livestock capacity of pastureland by up to two thirds. This in turn causes economic losses of some N$2 billion every year due to reduced meat production. This issue will come under close scrutiny at the 21st Rangeland Forum from July 17 – 19 at the Out of Africa Lodge, Otjiwarongo. The theme is ‘Rangelands in a changing world – the management and understanding of Namibian savanna rangelands.”

The event is sponsored by the German-Namibian research project OPTIMASS. Matters which, inter alia, will be discussed are bush encroachment, effects of fire, rotational herd management, access to markets and more.

Meanwhile, the bush encroachment process has developed into a huge biomass resource, estimated at about 200 million tonnes. Measures to repel bush encroachment, known as de-bushing, are creating new opportunities for the Namibian economy through the use of this resource for electricity generation and value chain development in other sectors. The de-bushing process therefore offers the potential to increase agricultural productivity, economic growth, employment and energy supply, without competing with food production.

Namibia has established a national de-bushing programme that supports the large-scale expansion of effective activities to fight bush encroachment. The programme is supported by public and private sector stakeholders. To use the bush biomass in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable ways, it is important to identify and develop opportunities adding value to the biomass. Programme activities will focus on support measures and on efforts creating an enabling environment. Key approaches at the programme level include:
• Developing strategies for the profitable use of biomass for electricity generation as well as in agricultural and industrial value chains; and,
• Enhancing know-how and institutional capacities for the successful development of the national de-bushing programme and improving the legal and institutional framework for large-scale bush clearance programmes.

The scale of bush encroachment in Namibia calls for extensive and expandable exploitation strategies. There is extensive and diverse demand for biomass on both domestic and international markets, with interest shown by, among others:
– the agricultural sector, which can use biomass as feed for cattle or wild animals, or as fertiliser for crop production;
– the construction industry, where biomass is used to produce sustainable building materials, such as chipboard or wood panels; and,
– the energy sector, whose especially large demand is sufficient to trigger large-scale bush clearance programmes.

Bush material can be used to substitute firewood in private households and fossil fuels such as coal or oil in industrial boilers and power plants.

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