Agriculture is the backbone of every nation and contributes largely to food security in any nation. Most people in Namibia, depend on agriculture and forestry/natural resources for their livelihood, especially in the rural (northern rural) part of the country. When you talk of climate change, agriculture is the most affected sector. The sector is threatened by climate change and this compromises the capacity to feed the nation especially those that rely on it for survival.
What does a changing climate mean for Namibian agriculture?
There has been visible evidence, especially in the northern parts of Namibia, which includes poor crop yields due to delayed or poor rainfall as well as loss of livestock (especially cattle) because of poor pastures caused by poor rainfall, high temperatures and the scarcity of water. The year 2016 has been the worst, the unpredictable weather has been affecting us for 5 years now, from drought to floods year after year. With the current drought which is described as the worst in 80 years, 720 000 people in Namibia are projected to be food insecure by the end of the 2016 to early 2017. The number of people receiving drought relief food has increased to 556 447 in the 2015/6 financial year. This number is however expected to rise if the situation continues. On the other hand, we need to reduce our impacts on the environment to help combat climate change. This then leaves the agricultural sector with a unique challenge; to produce more food for the nation while reducing its impacts to the environment.
What small scale farmers can do to adapt to climate change in Namibia
Climate change is being accelerated by the greenhouse gases that we emit from our car exhausts, burning fossil fuels, fires and also in agriculture by using machinery (e.g. tractors), clearing land for agricultural purposes and also from methane emitted from cattle dung/manure left on pastures. To minimize these impacts, we need to adapt to the changing environment. However, adapting to the changing environment is not the only thing we should do, we need to also mitigate, reduce our impacts to the environment to ensure the future of our children. We need to come up with ways to minimize our impacts on the environment and at the same time maximize production in the agricultural sector using the less available resources. Now I am not some sort of guru when it comes to either climate change or agriculture, but I do know the basics, and I have also grown up and lived in a rural area. I would like to share some ideas on how small-scale farmers can adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change:
1. Become water savvy. Our agricultural systems are heavily dependent on rain, and this is a challenge now that the rain is scarce. I think as the Namibian youth, we have an opportunity to set up small green schemes, use irrigation to water crops and vegetables, and get profit by selling our products to the market. With the current water shortages, there is a high need to conserve water but also an opportunity to use irrigation systems that conserves water such as drip irrigation.
Sustainable Agriculture at the Olushandja Horticultural Producers Association in Northern Namibia
2. Improve soils. We need to engage in practices that improve the fertility and structure of our crop fields in order to address loss of productive land. Crop residues should be incorporated in the soil to improve soil structure.
3. Rotate crops. We also need to adapt to a concept of growing a variety of crops not only mahangu/maize and rotate them within the field. Include drought resistant crops, and legumes that fix nitrogen in the soil.
4. Enhance our resilience by practicing mixed farming. This does not only mean keeping animals and growing mahangu/maize but also growing trees. Growing trees is good for the environment as it removes our greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. On the other hand, trees can also be use as fodder and their leaves can be used as mulch or green manure in crop fields.
5. Produce our own food at home. It’s the little that we do that have huge impacts, thus it also helps and I will suggest that people should have small gardens at home, you can grow few vegetables and fruit trees which can be used for own consumption or even sell at markets. I know we have a scarcity of water, but you can use grey water/reuse water to water your garden at home.
6. Diversify our livelihoods. We cannot just depend on agriculture alone. We need to find other means of generating income be it having a small shop, finding a job and/or selling other products that you can make for example baskets. This will help in generating income.
7. Working together. We cannot just depend on the government for survival; we need to make efforts as individuals to help ourselves. I believe that we cannot fight poverty in Namibia or in the world at large without strengthening the resilience of smallholder agriculture to climate change impacts. And this starts with individuals, small changes at home that can better our farming practices. Government then needs to enhance communities’ skills, knowledge and build capacity through extension workers in a quest to help them adapt and mitigate to climate change.
About the author:
Silvanus Nuuyuni is currently a Project Intern with the Environmental Awareness and Climate Change Project hosted by the Hanns Seidel Foundation Namibia. He holds an Honours Degree in Integrated Environmental Science as well as a Higher Diploma in Natural Resources Management. Previously he has also been an intern with the Summer Dryland Programme hosted by the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia and the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre.