Bush encroachment: Turning a problem into an industry

Bush encroachment: Turning a problem into an industry

Bush encroachment – the densification and rapid spread of native bush and shrub species, resulting in an imbalance of biodiversity – is an acknowledged problem in Namibia.

However, the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-Big) believes this problem can be turned into commercial benefit for the country.
According to a recent N-Big statement, this bush encroachment phenomenon is caused by a number of interlinked and potentially compounding factors.
These include overgrazing caused by historically high stocking rates; preference of grazing livestock over browsers; increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which favour growth of bush over grasses; suppression of regular high-intensity fires; prolonged drought periods followed by high rainfall years; and fewer periods of frost.

The latest estimations are that bush encroachment affects up to 45 million hectares of land in Namibia, increasing each year by approximately 3,2%.

“This means that bush encroachment is growing faster than our national population growth,” the statement highlighted. “Simply stemming this spread of bush encroachment each year would require de-bushing and biomass harvesting activities across 1,4 million hectares per annum but current concerted national de-bushing and harvesting efforts are optimistically estimated at a mere 200 000 hectares per year (0,5 % of the total national potential).”

Bush encroachment seems to be the silent killer of agricultural and associated sectors, thereby substantially suppressing the economy as it is slowly suffocating productive lands, sucking soils dry and driving out the country’s ecological diversity, the statement said.

“If business as usual continues, all of Namibia’s most productive lands will be blanketed in bush, hindering our very important socio-economic contributors, like the beef and small stock production industries, our tourism industry and our game farming and hunting industries,” the group warned. The current level of bush encroachment is causing substantial agricultural productivity losses through the drastic reduction of stocking rates.

This productivity loss alone is estimated to be costing the economy approximately N$2 billion per year. These losses will undoubtedly continue to increase, in line with the spread and worsening of the bush encroachment problem. It is now common for once productive land to be so densely bush – encroached that the movement of livestock and wildlife is impaired.Ground water recharge is also significantly affected by bush encroachment, the statement added.

THE BUSH OPPORTUNITY

The idea of utilising the woody biomass is a relatively new concept and bears tremendous socio-economic and ecological opportunities.

The charcoal industry is the most developed biomass sector in the country, but it has not always focused on the use of encroacher bush as its primary feed stock. However, lately, charcoal production is being used as a means of bush control and it has been successful in that it provides cost recovery for the de-bushing efforts.

Nonetheless, not all of Namibia’s biomass can be converted into charcoal, and therefore new ways of commercialising the resource should be pursued.The enormous potential value that could be unleashed from encroacher

Source: The Namibian

 

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