Namibia faces significant challenges from bush encroached land with estimates of 45 million hectares affected by this national phenomenon. Turning this challenge into an opportunity requires innovation and partnership. In its joint efforts to showcase the present solutions to the bush encroachment problem in Namibia and take the Namibian biomass industry forward, the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG) organised the first ever demonstration day for the public and key role players in the biomass sector on Saturday the 20th of October 2018 at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) outside Otjiwarongo. The event was hosted at CCF and organised by N-BiG in partnership with the De-bushing Advisory Service (DAS) and the Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA).
The event was attended by over 400 people and comprised a diverse group of representatives from the biomass sector including harvesters, producers, communal farmers, commercial farmers, members of the public, mature and young entrepreneurs.
“The aim of this gathering is to support improved linkages among those with the biomass and entrepreneurs offering the services and technologies in Namibia as well as in neighbouring countries,” said Progress Kashandula, General Manager of the De-bushing Advisory Service (DAS) during his welcoming remarks at the opening of the event. Kashandula further remarked that it was encouraging to see that some farmers’ cooperatives and associations were so eager to learn from this event that they travelled to the CCF and camped from the early morning hours until the gates opened. “We are encouraged to see this commitment and demand for knowledge from our communal farmers.”
The full day of technology demonstrations showcased over 33 technologies from 29 exhibitors and over 15 live demonstrations. These demonstrations and exhibitions included technology for bush-to-animal feed, firewood, woodchips, retort charcoal, compressed firewood, manual harvesting, semi-mechanized harvesting, fully-mechanized harvesting and drones. The live demonstrations were pragmatic as farmers preferred seeing the demonstrations in real life. The General Manager of N-BiG, Colin Lindeque, said in his opening remarks, “One truth in Namibia is that seeing is believing.
Many farmers see brochures and videos but they do not believe it until they can see it in action. That is what this event is about, we tried to bring together the farmers, SMEs and entrepreneurs to dispose of the brochures and sales talks to see the equipment in action for themselves.”
Mr Waldheim, a farmer from Epukiro, confirmed that the BTDD exposed him to the variety of machinery available in Namibia for producing animal feed from encroacher bush. “We as farmers heard about this open day from De-bushing Advisory Service (DAS) when they came to visit our community and share information about the economic opportunities of bush encroachment for us as communal farmers – but being here to see the machines in action has given me a better idea about what I can do about this problem and also make profit.” Vemuna Hengari and Kamaheke Kahuure farming in Omaheke Region said that the technologies for harvesting, making charcoal and biochar were most informative for them. “We are already going to start making small changes when we get back to the farm for how we cut the fire paths on our land based on what we learned here today. We also saw the different types of kilns and retorts for making charcoal, the event showed us many possibilities and we’ll be back next year!”
For young Namibian academics, the BTDD also provided a platform to exhibit their research projects, one of which proposes a hydraulic cutter for Namibia-specific species of encroacher bush. “Being here was a great experience because at the end of the day people started showing interest in our project and giving us their expert knowledge, ideas and advice.
The exchange with them will contribute to further research and this platform was also useful for me as a student because it showed me that I am really making a difference and that our research is very important to our country to solve our own problems”, explained a student from the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST). The BTDD will be a regular feature in Namibia’s annual calendar and Willem Groenewald, a member of the NCA with over twenty years of experience in de-bushing, welcomed this as he said the BTDD opens up many avenues for the sector to become better organised. “I see that the main bush-based value chains for Namibia to develop are the two for charcoal production and bush to animal feed.
This type of annual event adds so much value to the biomass sector overall at this moment in
time and going forward because we as the stakeholders need to take more ownership of growing the industry.”
Colin Lindeque commented as the open day was wrapping up that the event was designed to build momentum towards a bioeconomy in Namibia and to foster inclusivity and networking among existing and future role-players. “We welcome anyone to join the industry group who sees a future for themselves in turning bush encroachment from a problem into a viable economic opportunity.
As we have seen by the participation in Namibia’s first Biomass Day today, there is interest from different farmers, generations and genders – we at N-BiG welcome this diversity and are already making space for growth at next year’s event!”
The main sponsors of the event were the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Theo’s SPAR, Tops! at SPAR.