Drastic effort needed to save Namibia’s rangeland: expert

Windhoek: This warning comes from Namibia’s foremost independent consultant on rangeland management, Colin Nott. He addressed the 19th Rangeland Forum in Otjiwarongo last week. Nott stresses that climate change enhances the growth of bushes more than grasses and will therefore increase the bush encroachment problem in Namibia.

“Our country has already the most erratic rainfall in Southern Africa, which is expected to increase due to climate change, and 2015 is now widely regarded as the worst drought in 35 years,” he notes. Nott reported on the Namibia Rangeland Management and Policy Strategy (NRMPS) with a grant of N$11.6 million, approved by Cabinet and launched by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) in 2012 with 80 percent EU and 20 percent Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry funding.

The four-year project commenced on April 1, 2015 and is to run until March 31, 2019. Nott stresses the importance of implementing the NRMPS in a practical manner to provide tangible solutions for rangeland users across the country, and to empower rangeland managers and users to use their rangeland resources in such a way that animal production and profit is optimised, whilst improving rangeland productivity.

He says the goal to restore Namibia’s rangelands is a cross-cutting issue that affects the economy as a whole and needs support and awareness on a national basis. “The restoration of rangelands will have a direct effect on poverty alleviation of vulnerable groups in Namibia,” he observes.

Nott further notes that production costs for farmers have increased with 120% since 2006, while prices increased with 73%. He adds that sustainable increase in carrying capacity, linked to planned grazing systems is one of the best ways to sustain profitability and enhance livelihood, stressing the importance of restoring our rangelands. The strategy is implemented in conjunction with six cooperatives as well as Conservation Agriculture Namibia (CAM) and the Meatco Foundation.

The institutional framework of the project is made up of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), the Namibia Rangeland and Bush Encroachment Forum chaired by MAWF, the Rangeland Communal Advisory Committee in conjunction with resettlement farms working group, a game farms working group, and livestock working group.

The National Indicative Programme (NIP) for 2014 to 2019 between the European Union (EU) and the National Planning Commission (NPC), was also signed earlier this year. The aim of the NIP Programme is to support better rangeland management through tackling overstocking in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs).

Nott notes that a main contributor to the declining resource base is the failure to apply appropriate management of rangeland in the context of a variable climate. A full process needs to be engaged upon to implement the innovations in the NRMPS. In the communal areas farmers need to be able to define areas where management can be applied and rules enforced. Without group or individual tenure rangeland management, plans cannot be developed and enforced.

The marketing system of Namibia is also poorly adapted to a variable climate, and poor marketing is one of the main contributors to poor rangeland management. In ‘good’ rainfall years we have a fodder excess and our markets behave the same as those of the wetter climates – farmers sell animals when they have been fattened for a particular market and buyers compete for price over quality, etc.

When a fodder shortage occurs, and especially when this occurs at a regional or national scale, there is a ‘drought year’ or a large scale fodder shortage relative to the number of livestock in the region or country. This is expected in a dry climate and to manage the rangeland well, animals need to be removed from the land early to enable the remaining animals to produce through to when rain is next expected, whilst still improving the resource base.

However, when everyone sells at once the market becomes flooded, storage facilities and feedlots become full and prices drop. Farmers are reluctant to sell and the resource base suffers, animals die and the individual, local and national economy suffers. A holistic solution needs to involve the total chain, he stresses. Nott cites integrated planning with all stakeholders, National Rangeland Audit, and incentives to enhance the uptake of practices, as vitally important.