Managing Desertification in Namibia
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
During Napcod Phase
III, the initial monitoring system is being furthered and improved. The main
areas of investigation and action are described below:
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
It is important to
involve stakeholders that are experienced in economic and business development
in such activities that are indirectly related to combating desertification.
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.
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.