By Musa Zimunya
WINDHOEK, APRIL 3 – Bush encroachment is one of the key agricultural challenges in Namibia, causing massive economic and ecological damage in the country. It is estimated that more than half of the country’s prime rangelands are affected by this phenomenon that is characterised by the excessive expansion of bush at the expense of other plant species, most notably grass.
It is against this backdrop that the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) on Tuesday pioneered a project that incorporates technology development, applied research and capacity development in bush control and biomass utilisation.
The Biomass Utilisation by Sustainable Harvest (BUSH) Project – as it is known – is working toward finding solutions within the bush sector of Namibia, according to the Project’s manager Evert Strydom – a lecturer from NUSTs Faculty of Engineering.
Speaking to Namibia Daily News on the sidelines of the launch, Strydom said Namibia’s bush encroached areas fall mainly within the semi-arid savannas, with rainfall varying from about 300 mm in the west to over 600 mm in the north-eastern parts.
“In figures, this affects 30 to 45 million hectares, which is more than 30 per cent of Namibia’s total land mass, and this figure increases by approximately 3.2 percent per annum,” he said.
He added: “Through research we have found that from the 1940’s until now, Namibia has lost approximately 60% of its cattle grazing capacity due to bush encroachment.”
The BUSH initiative will join the fight against bush encroachment, but in much more ways than one as it will provide an umbrella to a number of projects that will ensure technology development, applied research and capacity development in bush control and biomass utilisation.
“For example, this project will work toward technology development within bush control; specifically focused on manual bush control. You can say we are redeveloping the axe, although the machines will by much more complex than that.”
Another area he touched on involves manual bush control methods specifically relating to jobs as Namibia’s unemployment rate remains high.
“We have a lot of people that can be working, de-bushing, gathering, and so forth.”
Strydom explained that the rest of the project would look at the value addition to the harvested bush considering that was a possible income stream to a de-busher, the community, and the country.
“There are many value streams through processes such as creating biochar, bush charcoal, wood chips and so forth. Many are available. It is an opportunity because Namibia is the 6th largest charcoal exporter in the world,” he pointed out.
Another value-adding aspect the project will look to tackle is converting bush to electricity.
“We are working toward biomass gasification. Also, converting bush to electricty by simply putting it into an internal combustible engine. Also, we can produce bush feed, which is one of the immediate problems in Namibia as even now, farmers are desperately trying to get rid of their cattle because there is less feed for their livestock.”
The Project is funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) to the tune of 3. 7 million Namibian dollars (233211 Euros). NUST students will also participate heavily and the project is expected to last for two and a half years. – email@example.com