Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

ET:Bush to Solve all African Problems!

by Ronald Rutherford Tue Mar 10th, 2009 at 03:04:54 PM EST

Well, since I got your attention, let me start with a couple of problems wrapped up in the article:Namibia: Policy to Create a Water Scarcity?

Ever since the government has started its reform of the rural water supply, water has become a scarce commodity, says Mukuya. Under the colonial South African administration, water was free for people in the communal areas. It was one of the many mechanisms the apartheid regime put in place to control the rural population.

Now communities are organised in Water Point Associations (WPAs), governed by committees, tasked with regulating and collecting the levies for the water supply, explains Mukuya, while he tightens the tap to make sure not a drop is lost.

"The government has stopped buying fuel for the pumps as part of the reform programme. They still come in to fix the pump when it breaks, but that will also stop eventually."

It is meant to lead to a paradigm shift. "Under the South Africans, water was used in a completely ecologically unsustainable manner", says Dr. Thomas Falk, author of a soon to be published study on the impact of the decentralisation of the rural water supply that affects one million Namibians.

Basically a neoclassical economics approach can help explain the shift from a resource that was free and thus overused to now trying to "get prices right" through the necessary "paradigm shift". Others may look at this trying to reduce the consumption of a precious resource, but who "pays for it" is a question that society must also answer. Namibia already has the highest Ginni index in the world and anything else to make it harder for the rural peasants will not necessarily be good for society.

Though the water situation in Namibia is believed to be extremely precarious - only the Sahara desert nations are more arid - astonishingly nobody knows exactly how little water there is.

"A quantitative analysis of available groundwater data is on the books, but will take three years to complete", says Greg Christelis, deputy director of Geohydrology at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. He says there is no data indicating that aquifers are depleting countrywide, but acknowledges that existing studies are confined to particular geological sites.

"All we know is that bush encroachment has a large effect on the groundwater table. In areas where bush is removed, recharge is much higher."

Bush encroachment is the most common form of land degradation in Namibia with roughly 26 million hectares of rangeland affected.

Some of the knowledge and technology could be provided by other countries. Of course there needs to be a sensitivity in developing their resources including human capital in problem solving. One of the initiatives that the IMF has endeavored in, is in helping with coordination of international aide agencies, and this passage seems to show a lack of coordination:
An evaluation report on various donor projects by the European Commission in 2008 concluded: "There appears to be little co-operation between water supply and sanitation scheme planners and the providers of water; merely an assumption that water is, or will be, available."
OK, so we got to see how "Bush" creates more problems for the world and how it is destroying Namibia and adversely affecting the poorest of the poorest in Namibia. Let me start with an anecdotal story.
At the meeting, geo-hydrologist Frank Bockmuehl said bush encroachment had reached such alarming proportions, that "our rivers flow far less than two, three decades ago or in some cases don't flow at all any more".
"On our farm in the Outjo area, my grandmother used a lovely spring to water her extensive vegetable garden. She regularly supplied the school hostels in town with the vegetables. The spring dried up 18 years ago; the water table on the farm had dropped by 10 metres."

He then started a debushing exercise and cleared 300 ha recently.
"To my great surprise and joy, the water at the fountain came back a few months ago and has kept a steady flow," the geo-hydrologist said. "The water table rose."

Luckily, there seems to be a solution but maybe this is the area that I honestly need more information about. The quote above and our further discussion is from: Namibia to start bush-to-electricity project from invader-bush. I have other documents that talk about this process but hasn't the USA has tried some of these projects over at least the last 30 years? Even "the Bush" talked about switch grass a few years ago.
A new way of combating bush encroachment and restoring Namibia's savannah landscapes will start in September when a N$ 14 mm project to set up an independent power plant fed with invader bush will kick off. The "bush-to-electricity" project is run by the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN), an energy expert at the organisation has announced.
"Other partners are the Namibia National Farmers' Union (NNFU) and the Namibia Agricultural Union (NAU)," Claus-Peter Hager told a meeting of charcoal producers at Otjiwarongo. "The Ministries of Environment and Tourism and Agriculture were also consulted. Funding of N$ 14 mm from the European Union over the next 24 months has been secured," Hager said.

Vast tracts of farmland cannot be used for farming because of encroachment by hardy shrubs and trees, generically known as invader bush. Studies indicate that about 26 mm hectares of agricultural land are infested, which is preventing the growth of useful grass species. It also results in soil compaction in the bush-encroached areas.
This has reduced Namibia's carrying capacity for livestock, resulting in reduced cattle numbers over the past 50 years -- from 2,5 mm in the commercial farming areas down to some 800,000 head of cattle. According to experts, the reduced availability of land for grazing causes economic losses of N$ 700 mm in the agricultural sector every year.

Another worrying factor is that the extensive root network -- up to 40 metres long -- of some invader bush species robs the soil of moisture. Soil also gets compacted, which prevents rain water from penetrating the soil and replenishing the underground water table. Hager told the meeting that usually, underground water was recharged with just 6 % of rain received.
"In bush-infested areas it is less than 1 %." Another adverse effect is that invader bush increases water run-off and erosion.

The project will be located in one of the areas with the highest density of invader bush -- around the north-central towns of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein. It wants to use farms that already harvest invader bush for charcoal production. The proximity of the areas to power lines, where the generated power can be fed into the national electricity grid, will also play a role.

Well, read the rest of the article since it is short and covers the issues quite succinctly.

What do you think? What other issues/problems should be discussed for this project? To provide some more background, let me start with what inspired at least another look at the Bush encroachment in Namibia. I was looking into property rights and some techniques in Niger dealing with desert encroachment in the blog post: Creeping dunes threaten African nation/But There is Hope in Some Areas. Then das monde had brought up the issues of the Invader bush and the Namibian savanna and he does a good job bringing out the important points in that article.

The following article gives some details about the project but I found the following points important in getting incentives right in any social/economic problem such as invader bush.
Namibia to use invasive shrubs for bioenergy, to meet all power needs

Individual, small farmers whose land is invaded say it is cheaper to buy a new farm than to try to eradicate the hardy bushes.
Although there are other methods to limit bush encroachment such as herbicides, use of browsers, fire, stumping or felling and bulldozing among others, many of these methods have been found to be so costly that farmers say it is cheaper to buy another farm than to debush.
This exposes our dilemma in how humans will deal with this economic problem. You can't just continually move to new land when the old land is not going to recover on its own.

The executive summary of the Bush Encroachment Report has some important considerations also:

Policies and legislation
For many years we have thought that problems in agricultural sector should and could be counteracted through scientific and technological solutions alone. Today we realize that the degradation process, with bush encroachment as a prominent sympton, could also be ascribed to policy failures, mainly in the socio-economic field.
Since most of the methods to combat bush encroachment are expensive, recommendations are also made herein to Government to introduce a number of socio-economic incentives that would encourage farmers to participate in restoring the land, this precious Namibian asset, to a more healthy and ecologically balance state.
Which again ties back to getting incentives right as we explored already in: Creeping dunes threaten African nation/But There is Hope in Some Areas

Don't all jump at once.
The following is just some background information on Namibia that originally I thought I would start with but in this case let me just add it as a post. "Invader Bush" problem, I know this is a cliché but I see a lot of contrasts in Namibian to study.

First I would like to see what Freedom House/Namibia states:

Namibia's civil liberties rating improved from 3 to 2 due to improvements in the rule of law, including the continued stabilization of the Caprivi region and the creation of a Ministry of Safety and Security.

Also Political rights are rated at 2 which gives Namibia a solid free rating. While the general population has many freedoms, women and homosexuals continue to face oppression and abortions are illegal.


At 318,696 mi² (825,418 km²[2]), Namibia is the world's thirty-fourth largest country (after Venezuela). It is comparable in size to Pakistan, and is about half the size of the US state of Alaska. After Mongolia, Namibia is the least densely populated country in the world (2.5 persons per km²).
Namibia's economy consists primarily of mining and manufacturing which represent 74% and 11% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) respectively. Namibia has a 30-40% unemployment rate...
Although per capita GDP is five times the per capita GDP of Africa's poorest countries, the majority of Namibia's people live in pronounced poverty because of large-scale unemployment. Namibia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world.
Namibia is the only country in the world to specifically address conservation and protection of natural resources in their constitution [15]. Article 95 states, "The State shall actively promote and maintain the welfare of the people by adopting, international policies aimed at the following: maintenance of ecosystems, essential ecological processes, and biological diversity of Namibia, and utilization of living natural resources on a sustainable basis for the benefit of all Namibians, both present and future."
HIV/AIDS in Namibia

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a very large problem in Namibia. Namibia's infection rate is one of the highest on the continent and it shares its eastern border with Botswana which has the highest rate of almost 39%. In 2001, there were an estimated 210,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, and the estimated death toll in 2003 was 16,000 [21]. In urban Namibia, Malaria is also a pressing problem. The malaria problem seems to be compounded by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Research has shown in Namibia, that the risk of contracting malaria is 14.5% greater if a person is also infected with HIV. The risk of death from malaria is also raised by approximately 50% with a concurrent HIV infection [22]. Given infection rates this large as well as a looming malaria problem, it may be very difficult for the government to deal with both the medical and economic needs resulting from this epidemic.


South Africa occupied the German colony of South-West Africa during World War I and administered it as a mandate until after World War II, when it annexed the territory. In 1966 the Marxist South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) guerrilla group launched a war of independence for the area that was soon named Namibia, but it was not until 1988 that South Africa agreed to end its administration in accordance with a UN peace plan for the entire region. Namibia won its independence in 1990 and has been governed by SWAPO since. Hifikepunye POHAMBA was elected president in November 2004 in a landslide victory replacing Sam NUJOMA who led the country during its first 14 years of self rule.
The positive aspects of this is that there was a peaceful transition of power in government.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Tue Mar 10th, 2009 at 04:38:08 PM EST
and given the cognitive dissonance potential going on here.  Former US hacks do graduate to screw up globally.
by Lasthorseman on Tue Mar 10th, 2009 at 11:00:46 PM EST
and given the cognitive dissonance potential going on here.  Former US hacks do graduate to screw up globally.

Sure plenty of potential but maybe you can spell it out. Which US hacks are you referring to? Maybe you can explain what you mean instead of cryptic answers.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Mar 11th, 2009 at 01:44:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Mar 11th, 2009 at 02:02:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I can't speak for Lasthorseman, but I would imagine he was referring to George W Bush. In fact, colour me deranged, but it took several paragraphs to shift from "Worst President Ever" to "Invasive Plant Species". Which come to think of it, is not that great a leap, after all.

Who knew that when W was "clearing brush" he really meant "gather seeds for shipment to Namibia."

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Wed Mar 11th, 2009 at 05:23:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really good diary.

I've seen some work on sub-Saharan land reclamation (from desert) which involves the use of ground covering short bushes which provide water retention and reduced evaporation and growing food crops in the same space. then after the food crop is hrvested, the goats can be allowed in to mop up the rest, fertilzing as they go.

I don't know if this is applicable but goats are pretty voracious.

Shame african elephants can't be used like the indian ones, it'd be a lot easier to shift the "Bush".

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Mar 12th, 2009 at 01:38:14 PM EST
i wonder what the permaculturist approach to this encroaching bush problem would be.

it is quite rare for nature to do the work of growing trees without them helping the water table, is it not?

couldn't they be made into pellets for woodstoves perhaps?

with those root systems, and hydroscopic characteristics, one might think it might merit some particular research. perhaps to drain swamps, perhaps for some medicine. if it's so tough, perhaps it could be formed into long-lasting tools, like plough blades.

if it has any use at all, i would imagine the oldest people living there might remember what their ancestors did with it.

nice to see the power transitioned peacefully...

very interesting diary, thanks!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Mar 12th, 2009 at 02:51:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're welcome.
Not sure what permaculturist approach would be but we are talking about a country with limited resources and pretty arid countryside that may limit some ability to be extremely hands on.

Yes, one of the solutions recommended was making charcoal for export markets in Europe and South Africa. But that is some pretty nasty work and still very polluting. But one of the problems was consistency in the charcoal output since coming from long distances and different suppliers and different sources of plants even. One firm is doing some of the exporting with some success.

But I agree that the gasification of biomass may be the best option if it proves viable and especially if small facilities can be built up inland to even provide fuels for the communal and commercial farmers. This could also make mechanization of farming more feasible.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Fri Mar 13th, 2009 at 01:54:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ronald Rutherford:
a country with limited resources and pretty arid countryside that may limit some ability to be extremely hands on.

with that 'level of development' i would have thought hands are what they're bound to depend on.
maybe pigs would root them up, maybe they need help with good steel for saws. maybe the sheer ambient temperatures make that kind of hard work suicidal...

i remember confronting wickedly thorny vines in hawaii that climbed hundreds of feet up trees, and thinking on how difficult they'd be to eradicate.

then there's the kuzu 'problem' in the american south, while in japan the root is prized and of high value, so there might be different cultural points of reference to consult...

with lots of time, those resourceful humans will find some way to capitalise difficulty, or have we really met our match here?

the future needs for a shrinking amount of water will make us really creative...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Mar 13th, 2009 at 06:13:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, they mentioned goats {sheep, dear, etc} as one of the possible ways to combat bush encroachment in the Bush Encroachment    Report on Phase 1 of the Bush Encroachment Research, Monitoring and Management Project, but one of the reasons for emphasizing cattle is because of the international markets for beef. The future is even more likely to be promoting cattle if things like this happen: Why the Pigou Club prefers chicken. My family use to have raise goats when I  young so familiar with their abilities.

Not familiar enough with grazing habits of elephants so have no idea if it would work. But interesting.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford

by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Fri Mar 13th, 2009 at 01:39:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries