Opportunities for encroacher bush
07 September 2020 | Environment
Bush encroachment can be defined as dominant increase in density of woody plant species on a piece of land. These species can dominate in their native habitats or invade other land areas, displacing other plant species, resulting in loss of biodiversity and an imbalanced vegetation type.
There are different woody plant species regarded as encroachers in Namibia. The common ones amongst many include Senegalia mellifera (Black thorn), Dichrostachys cinerea (Sickle bush) and Vachellia reficiens (False umbrella thorn).
The distribution of some of these species in the country is widespread, whereas some are confined to certain areas. Furthermore, these woody plants have different valuable uses. Most of them are valuable as forage resources to livestock, and other socio-economic uses, such as firewood, timber, and medicinal uses amongst others.
Bush encroachment in Namibia has significantly affected a larger area of land, estimated at around 40 million hectares. Evidently, the grazing values of the affected areas are reduced and their carrying capacities are reduced far beyond their abilities to sustain livestock. As a result, livestock productivity is compromised, and it has become more costly to maintain livestock on such farming areas.
Control is critical
Controlling bush encroachment is a critical effort aimed at restoring these grazing areas back to their natural potential to sustain livestock. Bush control is an expensive exercise that needs careful planning. However, besides bush being regarded a threat, it is also an untapped opportunity with enormous collateral benefits to the farmer through the production of wood, charcoal and bush feed.
Charcoal production is gaining momentum in Namibia and for the purpose of diversification it can be one of the secondary activities on a farm.
If well planned, it will contribute to the cash flow of the farm. Information regarding bush control and the utilization thereof can be obtained from institutions such as the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BIG) and the ministry of environment, forestry and tourism.
Bush encroachment and the recurrent drought in Namibia continue to negatively affect forage availability in many grazing areas, forcing farmers to spend a lot of money on livestock feed supplementation.
To lessen this burden, bush can be converted into animal feeds. Many farmers have embarked on bush feed production in the previous drought and have successfully saved their herds.
Bush feed is also a business opportunity for farmers to generate an extra income and to cover the production costs.
Some research work and feeding trials have been done to establish the correct feed formulations and feed rations that are suitable for different animal groups (cattle, sheep and goats) and feeding purposes (production or maintenance feeding).
This information is documented and freely available at N-BIG and the ministry.
There is consistent demand for firewood in Namibia, especially in urban areas and recreational facilities such as lodges. These include cost cutting by reducing dependency on electricity, a main source of energy in informal settlements, and recreational cooking (e.g. braai) amongst others. Thus, encroaching species can be used as a source of energy at farm level and beyond.
Any farm at any given scale will have costs associated with the resource inputs and operations. These include machinery, transportation, and labour costs. On that, bush control operations require careful financial planning and resource allocation for efficiency and the desired outcome.
Access to finance or credit has been one of the hindering factors for many farmers. However, credit providers such as the Agribank has created that opportunity for farmers to take up loans for purposes of bush control and biomass utilization.
* Erastus Ngaruka is a technical advisor: livestock & rangeland, and Arnoldt //Gaseb is a mentor: Erongo & Kunene regions from the Agribank’s Agri Advisory Services Division.