Managing Desertification in Namibia 

by Juliane Zeidler 

Namibia’s Programme to Combat Desertification (Napcod) was launched in 1994. It is a partnership programme between government, public and private service organizations (SOs), the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector, as well as community-based organizations (CBOs) and individuals. The implementing government ministries are the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development.    

The NGO consortium of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) and Namibia’s Economic Policy Research Unit (Nepru) are implementing three main components of the third phase of the national programme (1999-2003), including the development of tracking and monitoring systems of desertification in Namibia, and capacity strengthening of CBOs and SOs to combat desertification and manage natural resources sustainably.     

The consortium team of Napcod Phase III is mainly working in four pilot areas in northern, western, southern and eastern Namibia. The pilot areas are situated in communal farming areas in six of twelve regions in Namibia, namely Oshana, Omusati, Kunene, Erongo, Hardap and Omaheke, but individual interventions also take place in other regions. Napcod III is mainly operating at pilot sites that have been involved in the Sustainable Animal Range Development Programme (Sardep) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development (MAWRD) since the early 1990s.  Sardep seeks to strengthen community-based organizations in sustainable agriculture.     

The development of practical systems to monitor the natural resource base are seen as essential to equip farmers with reliable management tools for use on-farm. A decision-making support system needs to be established that allows the farmer to make informed management decisions, for example concerning grazing and water resources. Whereas it is essential to develop reliable monitoring tools, it is equally important to develop systems that can easily be adopted and applied by farmers.  

The Backbone to Monitoring 

During the second phase of Napcod, a pilot study was conducted at commercial, communal and so-called Odendaal farms - farms that were under commercial land tenure for 20 years before being incorporated into communal areas. The study area was located in north-western Namibia, in southern Kunene region, formerly known as Damaraland. The three main study sites are situated in an area of relatively similar range of 150-250mm mean annual rainfall and on similar parent material, which is predominately made of gneiss. Vegetation types are also comparable. Livestock farming is the main land use in the area, but small rainfed and/or irrigated vegetable gardens are maintained in good  rainfall years.  

The purpose of the pilot study was to determine reliable indicators of habitat/range condition in a scientific manner, to compare the results and methods with locally used ones, and to develop needs-based natural resource monitoring systems with local farmers. The scientific approach used a series of bio-physical and especially biodiversity indicators to determine habitat/range condition. 

The main findings from the pilot study  are summarized as follows: 

·        Local farmers see a need for monitoring their natural resources. They are interested in developing such systems, often have a profound knowledge of the ecology and processes on their farms and they are keen to develop management systems that allow them to use resources in an adaptive manner. 

·        Traditionally farmers use vegetation based assessments to determine range condition. These methods are usually promoted by the Agricultural Extension (AE). However, the pilot study showed that the use of a broader set of indicators in form of an index (here Index of Biological Integrity, IBI), including measurements of soil resilience, vegetation productivity and invertebrate biodiversity, were superior in discriminating areas that were degraded versus areas that were less constrained. In variable environments, which are predominant in Namibia, vegetation is often inconspicuous in years of prolonged drought, and therefore vegetation indicators are not useful in determining whether an area is degraded or not. A place that looks totally overgrazed today might flourish with palatable forage after adequate rains. 

·        Areas under high land use intensity were more constrained than areas under light land use. This was particularly so on communally owned farms. 

·        Land use intensity was not necessarily directly related to stocking numbers per se. The opportunity to move animals to ‘emergency’ grazing areas, especially during periods of prolonged drought was crucial for good management. Farmers from the communal farming areas often have less access to such ‘emergency’ areas. 

·        It is important to reveal the constraints to farming in the various areas. Communal management of natural resources is difficult, as ownership and use of natural resources and the distribution of profits made are not always equal. 

·        Besides the monitoring of habitat/range condition, other aspects of natural resources, such as socio-economic aspects, should be monitored. Farmers in the Grootberg area in north-western Namibia, who are situated in a so-called conservancy area in which they have rights to utilize locally occurring wildlife and generate wildlife related incomes, are interested in wildlife, habitat and impact monitoring. Impact monitoring relates in this case to establishing whether conservancy related opportunities do in fact help improve livelihood security and household incomes in the community. 

·        Monitoring systems must be needs-adapted. Scientifically sound indicators have to be linked to easily monitored surrogates, and methods must be designed to be easily implemented and used by farmers, some of whom are illiterate.  

·        It is important to also provide guidance in solution finding and management opportunities. Often these are related to policy issues in Namibia.    

The way forward 

During Napcod Phase III, the initial monitoring system is being furthered and improved. The main areas of investigation and action are described below:  

Habitat/range condition 

The IBI is being tested and adapted to different ecosystems in the four main pilot regions. A broad ecological baseline is being established at the various study sites and the most discriminating indicators are being isolated. Based on these, simplified surrogates are being identified that can more easily be measured by local farmers. Various biodiversity indicators are under consideration, including animal and vegetation based surrogates. However, it needs to be acknowledged that the identification of reliable indicators and surrogates is extremely difficult. 

Sustainable use of other natural resources 

As the majority of Namibian households depend on the use of natural resources for their living, either for subsistence or commerce, it is important that the renewable resource base is managed in a sustainable manner. The monitoring of resources is therefore of vital importance. Water is one such crucial natural resource. The usage of potable ground and harvested water is important to understand, for example consumption patterns, and ultimately to take management decisions to wisely use and protect the resource. Other crucial parameters are the consumption of wood, either for buildings, fuels or material for handicrafts. Various resources are being included in the monitoring systems now being developed at the partner communities in the Napcod III pilot regions. Water, for instance, is a major concern at the Olifantputs farm in Kunene region, whereas deforestation is a primary concern in Uuvudhiya in Oshana region. Relevant interventions, supported by Napcod, are underway at these sites. 

Socio-economic monitoring systems 

In the desertification context it is important to understand how livelihoods in Namibia depend on the natural resource base and how desertification constrains them. To identify viable alternatives to purely agricultural based livelihoods, the socio-economic situation needs to be well understood by the farmers themselves to empower them to adapt their lifestyles. The establishment of socio-economic indicators and monitoring systems is still in the developing and testing phase of Napcod III. As these monitoring systems include extremely personal data, it is essential that the farmers and community members identify with the need to track these.  

The socio-economic monitoring system to date includes information on household composition, assets, cash flows and rural-urban remittance dynamics. Information on livestock and crop ownership and dynamics are also included. Currently the monitoring system is mainly based on participatory rural appraisal and participatory learning approach, using facilitated questionnaires. However, material development needs still to be improved. 

Development of training and management materials 

Currently most of the monitoring systems are being developed in consultation with, and with participation from farmers and community members. However, the development of the materials is resource intensive and multiplication of the approach is difficult. It is essential to develop appropriate materials that can be used by a broader audience. It is equally important to offer management opportunities and options that can be used in response to the monitoring of both the bio-physical and socio-economic aspects of the environment. 

Management options and opportunities: Learning from Sardep and other natural resource management programmes in Namibia 

Livestock and range management 

In an environment as variable as Namibia’s in its climatic conditions, adaptive management and tracking of stocking numbers according to resource availability are essential. Forage production on a farm can vary drastically from year to year as well as spatially, depending directly on the rainfall received. Appropriate management practices have been tested, implemented and disseminated to farmers throughout Namibia. Some of the key elements include: 

·        Increase of fodder, e.g. through supplements or enhancing local fodder production; 

·        Reduced fodder in-take during droughts through management actions e.g. shifts in water regimes, improved health and husbandry of well-adapted breeds; 

·        Development of livestock movement strategies, including rotational grazing practices; 

·        Marketing of animals in an adaptive fashion, including interventions on the micro- and macro-economic levels to offer conducive opportunities and incentives to farmers; 

·        Diversifying and improving agricultural production on farm, especially in the communal farming areas; and 

·        Complementing purely agricultural dependent livelihoods with off-farm economic opportunities e.g. through Small- and Micro-Enterprise (SME) development. 

Training courses in livestock and range management have been conducted and are being undertaken at all pilot sites, both by Sardep and Napcod. The experience exchange and sharing of lessons learned among the farmers are being fostered through farmer visits. 

Diversified livelihoods and incomes 

The promotion of off-farm opportunities is essential to natural resource management in Namibia. Wildlife product based opportunities are for example the target of the Conservancy and Community-based Natural Resource Management programme of MET and various partners. Community-based tourism is one component of this approach. As tourism is a fairly high input industry, the sector is still primarily dominated by foreign and large investors. It is important to further develop the approach and to create more real opportunities for marginal and often fairly unskilled communities and individual community members in this industry. This again requires an extremely resource intensive development input.  

Other SME opportunities need to be facilitated. In Namibia, where infrastructure in the rural areas is often poor, population size and economic purchasing power are low and markets for most products are generally small, SME promotion is a challenge.  

In Uuvudhiya constituency in northern Namibia, Napcod, the Regional Awareness Project (RAP) and Steward Scott Engineers supported young entrepreneurs from the constituency in the establishment of rural production sites and sales businesses for fuel-efficient stoves (right). This initiative was started on demand of the local people in the hope to combat deforestation and a lack of access to appropriate technologies.    

It is important to involve stakeholders that are experienced in economic and business development in such activities that are indirectly related to combating desertification. 

Building partnerships to combat desertification 

It is clear that to effectively control desertification, partners from all walks of life and disciplines have to work together. Desertification cannot be seen as a bio-physical phenomenon only; it needs to be addressed in a livelihood and rural development context in order to bear lasting fruit. In Namibia, network platforms on various levels are being established to facilitate information exchange, co-ordinate interventions and form partnership projects on all levels. Firstly, it is important to identify the real needs and concerns of the rural households and CBOs. These need to be communicated to the service organisations, both public and private, in order to develop needs-oriented and appropriate services. Secondly, the co-ordination of and collaboration in service provision are essential. Partners from various departments and disciplines need to work together to deliver suitable goods.  

The fostering of fuel-efficient stove businesses in Uuvudhiya constituency, for example, required a multi-disciplinary approach, involving a private engineering firm to provide production training, an SME network to identify and help contract a SME trainer, and Napcod and RAP to help identify the communities’ needs and co-ordinate the activities on site in support of the regional councillor and traditional leaders of the area. For the compilation of appropriate and community-friendly training materials, the Communications Unit of DRFN was contracted.     

Most of the key players are also part of the national Napcod Counterpart Network, which meets once a month and maintains a monthly e-mail newsletter hosted by one of the Network members, the Meatboard of Namibia, a commercial enterprise. In the north, two regional networks, supported by Nacpod and others, bring together all regional environmental organizations, political and traditional leaders and decision makers around one table. The Northern Namibian Forestry Committee and the Oshana Regional Natural Resource Management Committee operate in northern Namibia. In Uuvudhiya constituency itself, a constituency development committee as well as committee for range development and natural resources (Okomitiye Yelungameno L’Omalundu Niimuna) are in place. These are well established CBOs that were partially supported by Sardep in their initial phase, and which are operational to date.

Lessons learned in the context of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification 

Namibia can now look back on a decade of new interventions and testing of various approaches to community-based natural resource management, rural development, SME promotion, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, all ultimately adding up to the struggle against desertification. The major lesson learned is that all these issues relate ultimately to livelihood security and poverty alleviation. The realization of the human aspect of the environment leads to the development and refinement of people-centered approaches and methodologies. The development of well-targeted training and information materials, the creation of true opportunities at the grass-roots level, and the facilitation of communication, information exchange and collaboration and support amongst all stakeholders, is essential. Furthering conducive policy environments that reach out to the people in rural areas is equally important.  

The main trend has been pro-active: working with ongoing local and national plans, projects and initiatives to facilitate and implement activities conducive to better understanding of land degradation and combating desertification in Namibia, rather than spending time and resources in the detailed development of national action plan documents. This notion has been carried forward in the implementation of all of the environmental conventions ratified by Namibia. Most of them are being implemented in close collaboration and are cross-cutting in their nature. Namibia, for example, has a “Conventions Synergy Committee”, which is being co-ordinated through the National Biodiversity Programme, which helps create synergy between various convention-related activities.  

Over the past decade, Namibia has learned many lessons through the implementation of various environmental conventions and related programmes. These are brought forward through a continuous monitoring and evaluation process that directs future interventions, and which is shared throughout the SADC region.   


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