Agroforestry as a Climate Change adaptation method in Namibia: Lessons from India

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As a young forester with a keen interest in agroforestry, I have great concern for Namibian farmers and their livelihood options, especially in the wake of uncertainties caused by the current climate change phenomenon. 

The agricultural sector in Namibia lends itself highly vulnerable to climate change because of the water stress, high temperatures and evaporation rates, and more frequent and prolonged droughts - all associated with the global phenomenon.  A large proportion of the country’s population relies directly on subsistence farming, which is extremely dependent on rainfall and water resource storage. As one of the driest countries south of the Sahara, Namibia receives an average annual rainfall of 350mm; presenting an enormous challenge for rain-fed agriculture that the majority of subsistence farmers rely on.  Moreover, most of Namibia's soils are arenosols containing few nutrients and poor water retention capacity. Plant growth is therefore constrained not only due to shortages in phosphorus but also as result of deficiencies in nitrogen and other valuable trace elements.

Crop yields have been affected by increasingly unpredictable rainfall over the past few decades in rural areas (specifically in my region - Omusati). The staple food crop Pennisetum glaucum (Omahangu) which can tolerate various soils and moisture has also recorded marginally losses over the years in productivity terms.  What about the forestry resources? Large parts of Namibia, particularly in the north central and north-eastern regions are rich in forestry, aren't they?

Well, these reserved forest resources, protected for a long time through conservation have become a target for wood and timber exporters and face imminent overexploitation due to the high demand of forest wood/timber products.  There is a need to critically reassess and find alternative techniques to our traditional farming systems and models in order to withstand the impacts of climate change. 

To prepare for the effects of climate change it is of utmost importance that agriculture in Namibia takes appropriate adaptation measures. Adoption of sustainable agriculture is vital to food security, especially for subsistence farmers. I have had the privilege of being exposed to how communities in arid areas of India approached climate adaptation. One thing I picked up was that the current system practiced in Omusati and Namibia as a whole, largely based on monoculture, is deemed to make farmers even more vulnerable. I had the privilege of interacting with Indian farmers who had adopted systematic agroforestry models and the experience was both informative and in the context of our own climate vulnerabilities also worth emulating. In a changing climate, it is advisable for farmers to adopt mixed cropping and climate resilient farming techniques. We have to develop and popularize what is currently known as climate smart agriculture.

Agroforestry relates to the practice of agriculture and forestry on the same piece of land. The system maximizes production as a result of greater efficiency of perennial crops for photosynthesis, tapping nutrients and water from deeper layers and creating better environmental conditions. Furthermore, it supplements food and fodder, meets the diverse needs of the people, improves soil conditions, utilizes wastelands and degraded lands, provides employment opportunities to rural populations, increases farm income, minimizes the adverse impacts of climatic factors, aids industrial growth and improves the environment for better health. Tree components through their deep roots explore a large soil volume of water and nutrients which help to maintain production during periods of drought.

Agroforestry is recognized as a carbon sequestration strategy because of its applicability in agricultural lands as well as in reforestation programs. The system offers the highest potential for carbon sequestration, with carbon sequestration rates ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 Mg C ha−1 yr−1. The Agroforestry model has also some indirect effects on C sequestration since it helps to reduce pressure on natural forests. Moreover, it has such a high potential, not only because it is the land-use practice with the highest carbon density, but because there is such a large area that is susceptible for the land use change. An approach that makes it possible for farmers to produce most of the nitrogen that crops need is through fertilizer trees in the field – manufacturing nitrogen and cycling P and K with no cash investment.

In the end, I learned that the farming secret and the future of productive lands and food security lies in “Agroforestry” which is part of the climate smart agriculture modality.

Though agroforestry schemes are seen as long-term investments, they can greatly improve the living condition of our local farmers in the short to medium term.  The system can provide a wide range of products and services to rural and urban people as both crops and trees are integrated into productive landscapes. Successful worldwide agroforestry-based systems include; Agrisilviculture, agrisilvihorti, agrihorti, silvopasture & silvihorticulture. Adopted systems such of Populus sp., A. nilotica, Casuarina, P. cineraria (King of dessert) and Eucalyptus (saline/waterlogged areas) as well as A. Indica (degraded/wastelands area) have been found positive in terms of increasing productivity and economic returns. Adoption of Agroforestry practices in our subsistence farming systems can reap substantial benefits, both economically and environmentally, producing more output hence proving to be more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures. Therefore, farmers may expect wide range of benefits with major increase in production output per area. Though farmers might not be fully aware that agroforestry will provide environmental services leading to resilience of agriculture and thereby helping to mitigate climate change. 

The question however is, can agroforestry win over current subsistence cultivation methods?

 Agroforestry Systems of Populus and Eucalyptus sp. practiced under arid areas


Paulina Pomwene Fendinat is a graduate from CCS-Haryana Agricultural University (India) with a MSc. in Forestry. Paulina is currently a professional intern at Environmental Investment Fund. 

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