According to the Namibian Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) the country is affected by bush encroachment on a massive scale. Bush encroachment is the invasion or thickening of aggressive, undesired woody species, resulting in an imbalance of the grass:bush ratio, a decrease in biodiversity, and a decrease in carrying capacity. This phenomenon currently affects between 26 and 30 million hectares of farmland in nine out of the country’s 14 regions. This amounts to roughly 30% of Namibia’s land area.
Bush encroachment has lowered the country’s rangeland production capacity by up to two thirds. It also impacts adversely on biodiversity, water-use efficiency and underground water tables, thereby contributing to the process of desertification. Surveys done in bush-affected areas show a highly significant negative correlation between increasing problem bush densities and the occurrence of a perennial and total grass cover. Furthermore, although bush densities in commercial areas are higher compared with communal areas, the high number of bushes smaller than 0.5 m in communal areas is a matter of great concern since they are the source of future bush thickening.
Namibian Australia Awards Alumnus, Pekeloye Malwa, completed a Masters of Global Food and Agricultural Business at the University of Adelaide. He returned home to his Policy Advisor position at MAWF. He later joined a development project resulting from the bilateral cooperation between MAWF and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), as a Policy Advisor. The project is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammernarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Pekeloye’s role has been focused on creating an enabling environment for smooth bush control activities. He has coordinated the enhancement and harmonisation of policies, laws and regulations with a focus on bush control and adding value to harvested biomass. This has involved numerous stakeholder consultations and engagement with relevant states to discuss methods to regulate the use of forest resources in a sustainable manner, without causing bottlenecks. He has also facilitated the development of incentives and financing products, such as grants, to scale-up bush control initiatives. Pekeloye has also been involved in the development of the National Strategy that serves as a National Action Plan for large-scale bush control activities, and participated in networking, consultations and policy-related issues for the project.
The skills and knowledge Pekeloye gained during his time in Australia have developed in him the ability to have a holistic approach to assessing policy and legal issues, thus achieving inclusive solutions. “This project translated into the involvement of multiple stakeholders, ranging from government (several ministries), state-funded institutions, non-governmental organisations, banking institutions, farmers’ unions and individuals. I can attribute my ability to deliver on my designated role to the skills gained during my studies in Australia, specifically those on agricultural policy analytics, management practices for work and people (interrelations) and research skills. The team skills that were instilled in every student during each module contributed to my daily work.”
The ongoing project (which ends in December 2017, with a possibility of it being extended) is aimed at providing support to de-bushing. “The project develops the necessary strategies to scale up encroacher bush control efforts. This is implemented centrally with a general focus on communal and commercial areas affected by the bush encroachment problem and pilot sites in selected regions,” says Pekeloye.
Pekeloye relates the support to the de-bushing project’s approach to being centered on identifying value chain opportunities that trigger large-scale de-bushing activities. The project fosters technical support related to institutional development in the bush-based biomass sector and provides support to improve the legal and regulatory framework for large-scale bush control. “With this focus, most of the benefits are with government institutions and related industry institutions. However, at the grassroots level, this project is important to the farming community as scaled-up bush control means that rangelands are made productive again.
Specific communities, such as those in the Okondjatu region, have received first-hand experience and knowledge on producing animal feed from the bush. Other indirect benefits will be realised when policy and regulatory changes, targeted at removing bottlenecks and growing the sector, are implemented,” he says.
From 2014, when the project began, there have been some concrete achievements, like the comprehensive National Strategy for Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation, the introduction of tailored guidelines on authorisations required for future environmental assessments of large-scale de-bushing operations, and a joint initiative between MAWF and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
“We have also established critical institutional frameworks for the emerging sector, including the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG) and De-Bushing Advisory Service (DAS), scoped potential biomass-based products, such as construction material, household energy or bioplastic, and piloted selected value chains that support high-value charcoal and animal feed production,” says Pekeloye.
Australia Awards recipients return home with new skills, knowledge and networks. Their ability to contribute to sustainable development in their workplaces and communities is a key outcome of Australia Awards – Africa. Contributions, such as the ones made by Pekeloye, have turned Australia Awards – Africa Alumni into leaders in their field.