16 November 2012

Namibia: Conservation Agriculture Is the Way to Go

Windhoek — In light of the adverse effects of climate change, the logical route for Namibia is to embark on adaptation strategies such as changing from conventional ways of ploughing to environmentally friendly ways, or to practise conservation agriculture.

As a result, the UNDP-Global Environment Facility's Community Based Adaptation (CBA) project is working with communities to build resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change in agro-pastoral communities - and to foster community participation in the identification of climate drivers, risks and adaptive solutions.

These projects under the CBA in Namibia fall under the Momentum of Change Initiative 'lighthouse activities' that would be showcased during the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Doha, Qatar in late November to early December.

The lighthouse activities in developing countries either help to curb greenhouse gas emissions or help people adapt to climate change, while at the same time benefiting the urban poor.

For example, Andreas Tweendeni, the Creative Entrepreneurs Solution (CES) field coordinator says they have introduced rip furrowing instead of the conventional animal ploughs or disking, in some pilot areas.

He said the rip furrow method cracks the hardpan open so that roots can grow deep, and to avoid water logging of fields. "So that water can penetrate easier and keep the moisture. Then you apply organic manure and fertilisers," he explained.

The method also minimises soil disturbance to avoid soil erosion. A tractor-mounted ripper-furrower equipped with wings is used to break up the soil.

In the process it breaks up the hard pan underneath the light sandy topsoil at a depth of 30 cm, which allows for water retention and deep root penetration below the hard alkaline (salty) layer. This allows the feeder roots to reach the nutrients located below a 30cm depth in the soil.

"Plants grown using the rip furrow method have longer roots and do not get blown away by the wind and are stronger," Tweendeni explained. At the same time, the wings make a furrow that collects rainwater and channels it to the base of the furrow and into the ripped area where the plants will grow.

Research and on-farm trials show that this method is solving problems associated with limited moisture in the soil (i.e. drought), as well as flooding (by allowing and increasing infiltration).

The in-field water harvesting channels rainwater to the plant's basal area. During flooding, the abundant, excess water finds its way through the ripped compaction layer, infiltrating deep into the soil and preventing water logging.

Ripping and furrowing can be adapted to traditional cultivation methods and can still be cost-effective. The technology can accommodate pulling by both oxen and tractors with similar increases in harvest yields. Tweendeni said the rip furrow is a new method in Namibia and a lot of training is still needed to get more people on board. "People are really interested in conservation agriculture and want to get the implements," he added.

As a result, farmers are leaving their age-old ineffective practices and quickly adapting to conservation tillage (CONTILL) practices. In addition, CONTILL allows farmers to diversify production, to boost food security, income and nutrients.

CONTILL is helping to reduce the negative effects of floods, drought and irregular rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and soil degradation.

In fact, this process has already shown great results with an increase in crop yields of up to 500 percent. The 12 villages participating in the project are comprised of a diverse audience of members of the community, including vulnerable children.

The target groups consist of subsistence farmers (most of whom are women and youth) who are most likely to depend on the affected and impacted environments for subsistence and cash incomes.

Namibia is a very arid country, yet it is heavily dependent on agriculture, which is worst affected by climate change.

Droughts and erratic rains, interspersed with floods that originate in neighbouring Angola, plague the northern side of the country and leave brittle, nutrient-poor soil, which renders farmlands unproductive.

This negatively affects food, water security and general livelihoods due to failed harvests, and decreases livestock numbers and products.

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