21 April 2006

Namibia: Citizens Tackle Bush Encroachment

Windhoek — Concerned that the extent at which bush encroachment is going may turn into a national crisis and hinder the attainment of Vision 2030, some individuals are putting their heads together to reclaim the land from invader bush.

Bush encroachment is the thickening of aggressive undesired wood species resulting in imbalance of the grass, which leads to a decrease in biodiversity and the carrying capacity of the land. It is the single most restraining factor for sustainable livestock production and improved living standards in rural areas.

It has reduced the carrying capacity of land from one large stock unit per 10 hectares to one large stock unit per 20 to 30 hectares and also the concomitant loss of more than N$700 million per annum, which has had a direct impact on the livelihoods of 65 000 households in communal areas and also 6 283 commercial farmers and their employees, according to a report on Bush Encroachment in Namibia.

Because of invader bush, the number of cattle especially south of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF) has declined drastically from 2.6 million in 1956 to around 900 000 to date in both commercial and communal areas combined.

This week, a group of people met to discuss the problem and how it could be linked to employment creation. Ottilie and Dr Kenneth Abrahams are the brains behind a project called "The Land Reclamation Project".

The idea of the project was born at a meeting of emerging commercial farmers where bush encroachment was discussed.

Ottilie Abrahams said on Wednesday at a meeting called to talk to interested groups about the project that Namibians need to reclaim the land from invader bush, which would increase the carrying capacity for the land and also free the water for more productivity.

Abrahams, principal of Jacob Marengo School said: "We are trying to reclaim the land for cattle but also to grow crops for food self sufficiency."

The aims of the project are to fight bush encroachment to free land for development, provide employment, increase the Gross Domestic Product and increase the awareness of Namibians to preserve their environment.

In South Africa, it is said that the invasive species are already causing the losses equivalent to 4 percent of GDP.

Abrahams noted that every year thousands of youths leave school and because they are idle they end up engaging in criminal activities. Namibia's unemployment rate is around 35 percent.

The project has already held talks with the Namibia National Students Orga-nisation to select jobless youth who can endure hard work and who will be trained in bush encroachment.

But considering that the project is too big, Abrahams has consulted with others so "that we can put our heads together and come up with a proper project".

"We feel the Land Reclamation Project is an important project and we cannot afford to bark up the wrong tree," she added.

Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta, who attended the Wednesday meeting, said bush encroachment and unemployment were both so serious that they need the attention of the government and all its citizens.

According to a researcher from the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia, Bertus Kruger, invader bush offers vast opportunities for employment and land reform and should be tackled as an integral part of development.

Although farmers have tried to find solutions for the problem since 20 years ago, Kruger said, invader bush should be addressed at a national level.

Areas that have a high intensity of the invader bush are Epukiro, Grootfontein, Okahandja, Okondjatu, Outjo, Tsumeb, Windhoek, Okakarara, Otjituuo and Otjiwarongo.

More than 400 bushes per hectare has an adverse effect on land productivity but in areas such as Tsumeb and Otavi, there are around 200 000 bushes per hectare, which does not give a chance for anything else on the land.

The next meeting to solicit ideas about the project has been set for May 3, 2006.

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