WINDHOEK - The pods of the majestic camelthorn tree are now more precious and valuable than ever in especially the drought-stricken South where farmers are grasping at straws in order to save themselves and their livestock.
Terrible tales are emerging of how most communal farmers in the Karasburg and Warmbad areas have lost virtually their entire herds of small stock due to the drought that has never released its grip on these farms since 2013.
The pods of the camelthorn tree have been part of farmers' bush-feeding systems for decades and with the current drought escalating, farm workers and their children can also earn an additional income by gathering these pods.
The Namibia farmers Drought Aid Programme pays gatherers of camelthorn pods N$40 per 50kg bag which gets distributed with the free lucerne and animal fodder. The programme has reached out to almost 300 farmers, delivering some 13 000 bales of lucerne and 500 bags of feed to areas such as Mariental, Leonardville, Tses, Bethanië, Keetmanshoop, Karasburg, Warmbad, Ariamsvlei, Aroab and Maltahὅhe.
Over the decades, the camelthorn pod has earned its place among drought-feed food stocks. The disastrous drought is demanding more of farmers with each passing day and bush feeding is now more intense than ever.
Namibian farmers do not only use bush-feed as a drought emergency feed but 50 percent of the farmers also use it as a supplement feed throughout the year or as a feedlot feed.
This is the finding of a recent survey done by the Support to De-bushing Project. The survey aimed at capturing current bush-to-feed practices and identifying key challenges to assist in the development of suitable interventions with regard to the production, effective use, storage and future commercialisation of encroacher bush feed.
Farmers testified that bush-feed production reduces pressure on the rangeland and grazing. It also allows maintaining the herd size during times of fodder shortage. The majority of respondents provide bush-feed to their cattle and sheep. However, some also feed their goats, pigs, donkeys or game with it, receiving excellent results.
The report states that the use of drought-resistant fodder crops, such as camelthorn pods, spineless prickly pear and old man saltbush, as supplements to the milled bush has been the key for the success of various bush-feed productions. Spineless prickly pear has shown to give results comparable to maize chops as an energy source. Old man saltbush is a good source of protein, salt, and minerals.
"Exceptional growth rates of up to 7kg a week in cattle and 1.5kg a week in sheep were obtained by farmers who fed animals with bush-based rations. The respective farmers had made efforts to send samples of their milled bush and prepared bush-based rations for laboratory analyses to the ministry of agriculture's laboratory so that the nutritional value could be tested and ideal rations to be determined. Such practices help to avoid unnecessary expenses caused by excessive use of nutrients and avoid animal illnesses caused by their lack," the report notes.
Most farmers prefer the combination of a wood chipper and a hammer mill over the use of a combined all-in-one machine. The high labour intensity of bush harvesting is a major obstacle and it keeps 42 percent of the respondents from expanding their production. Machines such as chainsaws and brush cutters are more efficient options than pangas.
The survey was conducted by the Support to De-bushing Project implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in collaboration with the UNDP.
The acacia trees produce nutritious pods which are high in crude protein. The pods ripen during the dry season and can be used to supplement livestock feed when there is an inadequate supply of feed on rangelands.
There has been a drastic increase in the cost of feed in recent years owing to the economic hardships faced by most Namibian communal farmers. Few communal farmers can afford to buy supplementary feed for livestock, and some have resorted to collecting tree fruits and feeding them to livestock as protein supplements, especially during the dry season.