Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ET:Bush to Solve all African Problems!

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

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