“Our aim is to restore balance within the ecosystem.”
Mr Kashandula, you now no longer talk about de-bushing, but instead about bush thinning. Why?
Although the bush that encroaches on our land has negative impacts on agriculture, especially livestock carrying capacity, that does not mean we ought to get rid of all of it. It is always ensured that not all bushes are removed, but through selective bush thinning only a pre-determined proportion is removed. Our aim is to restore balance within the ecosystem. Protected plants or ones that are important, for example because they prevent riverbed erosion or contribute to soil health, are not harvested. We give every landowner specific advice for their particular situation.
Once the bush has been thinned, that does not mean the problem has been solved, because the plants grow back. What can landowners do to prevent that?
We offer training to teach them how to limit or completely prevent bush regrowth. For example, you can make deep cuts in the stump or place goats into these areas to browse on the regrowth. So there are various methods and it is important to use at least one of them. Otherwise the whole thing is not sustainable: without aftercare, the bush grows back stronger than before, thus exacerbating the problem.
In Namibia, there are large commercial farmers on the one hand and many smallholders who farm communal land on the other. To what extent do your training programmes differ?
Generally speaking, our message is always the same – we emphasise the advantages of sustainable bush control and use – but the models we use are different. Many commercial farmers have machines that can also be used to produce bush products such as bush feed; they usually have greater financial leeway and they are investing in their own land. In contrast, smallholders farmland that belongs to the state or the community and is shared by hundreds of people. Here, you need structures for the joint purchase and use of equipment and for sharing any profits. That’s often an obstacle. At the same time, harvest and production need to be simplified to ensure that as many of the resources on the land can be used as possible. That is why our experts actually go there and look for individual solutions on the land itself.
Many farmers gave up their bush thinning and feed production efforts in 2020 after the end of the most recent drought, because there is enough grass for their animals again. Is that a good idea?
No, it isn’t. That’s why we are encouraging them to carry on. Firstly, to ensure that regular bush thinning continues for restoring pastureland, and secondly in the interests of their animals. We advise them to give the animals at least some additional bush feed as part of supplementally feed. After all, it is only a matter of time until the next drought occurs, and the animals react sensitively to changes in their diet. Changing their diet too rapidly can cause health problems.
What opportunities and challenges do you see in producing bush feed on a large scale and supplying it to neighbouring countries?
There are huge opportunities, because Namibia still imports tremendous amounts of animal feed during times of droughts. We could minimise these costs and at the same time set up a new economic sector. Perhaps not for export straightaway, but initially for the local market. The greatest challenge here is the legal requirement of registering bush feed. This is a new kind of product for Namibia, and many farmers are complaining that there are still too many bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process. We are working to simplify that too, because the potential is certainly there, and it would be a loss not to harness it.