Healthy Soils for Good Food Supply

DURING the year 1991, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported a decline in food production per capita of one to three percent in sub-Saharan Africa for the past 30 years. Today sub-Saharan Africa has the fastest growing human population in the world accompanied by ever increasing food prices.

A quarter of all people in this part of the world are undernourished and those who are fortunate pull through each year on nearly permanent food hand-outs such as drought or other food aid. One can only fear, amid anecdotal evidence, that these statistics of 23 years ago did not get any better. And Namibia is no exemption to this food crisis.

In order to tackle this food crisis as a country we should take time and reconsider our best options. Do we want food security or food sovereignty? Food security is when we have enough food that anyone can afford without spending more than 70% of their monthly wages or salaries on food and not care whether it is locally produced or imported from South Africa, Brazil or China, and how it was produced or what went into the production of such food.

Or we might want to move towards food sovereignty to ensure that the nation produces enough food for itself and, at most times, health conscious consumers know what went into the production of such food items. As a country faced by numerous food challenges we should be getting worried, just like South African producers are worried whether they will be able to produce enough food for themselves and other African countries.

How can we achieve sustainable food sovereignty from the beef and crop industry while minimising the dangers of land degradation and desertification? At this moment one can be sure that we only have one best solution and that solution is only to achieve food sovereignty at household level.

This can be done if we adopt Allan Savory’s holistic grazing management strategy to reverse land degradation and desertification with one goal in mind of obtaining healthy living soils on commercial farming land and communal areas such as the Northern Communal Areas (NCA) that houses more than half on the population in Namibia.

The NCA, an area with a hidden potential to become a major player of the Namibian beef market holds about 60% of our beef cattle with very low off-take rates and low crop production yields. These large cattle herds in NCA are not the leading causes of poor productivity and land degradation but the methods in which they are managed are problematic.

The current practice of uncontrolled grazing often results in breeding generations of highly selective feeding animals year after year which caused the disappearance of highly nutritive grass species causing undernourishment in livestock herds.

Uncontrolled grazing practises are also the leading cause for large areas of land that have heavily compacted top soils reducing the amount of water that percolates into the soil, higher evaporation rates and water run-offs or, simply put, a situation that we have become familiar to – flooding.

These water run-offs carry along massive nutrients and salt deposits that end up in oshanas and earth dams becoming the leading cause of water salinity. These huge nutrient losses may escape our attention but they are important nutrition elements of rangelands and crop field nutrient cycles.

Cycles that we continuously break to benefit a few plants species that are of less economic value, thriving in these ever increasingly saline water ecosystems year after year.

Allan Savory’s holistic grazing management system offers us the ability to return more carbon and moisture (water) into the soil, holding it there to ensure sustainable soil health and ultimately improve productivity. Healthy soils have nutritive power to sustain a healthy living human population, this is attributed to the fact that what nutrients we return to the soil is what we get out of it at harvest, which is basically “what you sow is what you reap”.

Kafula Sakeus is an MSc Sustainable Agriculture student at Stellenbosch University (South Africa).

Source : The Namibian