Mbati Tjiho is a generational farmer who traded in his 25-year office job to explore his passion for farming in 2017 on Farm Winnie, which was a predominant livestock production farm, close to Outjo in the Kunene region.
Tjiho has seen first-hand the impact of bush encroachment on his family farm.
“Some farms in my area have much more grass than our farm. Our farm was overgrazed and encroached. Today, the grass doesn’t grow that high, but it is something I am correcting.”
Tjiho explains: “I realised that there is an opportunity in the farming industry, with the encroaching bush in Namibia. It is a huge problem for livestock grazing. Some people have even started adding value to the bush either through charcoal production, firewood production, or biochar and many other products. The reason why I embarked on bush thinning was to improve the grazing capacity of the farmland.
“When I started farming, my father was doing some charcoal production, but I didn’t know how big the production should be for it to be profitable. Unfortunately, my father passed away at the end of 2017 and I had to take over the operations of the farm. At the beginning of 2018, I became a member of N-BiG,” explained Tjiho, referring to the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BiG), a support organisation to the Namibian biomass industry.
“With their assistance, we assessed the vegetation composition. We did the calculations per hectare as well as for the overall farm and concluded that there is a lot that I can do. However, I didn’t have much experience then, so I had to knock on different doors in the industry. I also became a member of the Namibia Charcoal Association (NCA).
“When I took over from my father, the production was very small. My father had 12 kilns; this would produce enough to supply two to three trucks per year. I used my savings to acquire more and push our numbers to 30 kilns.”
Sound environmental practices
Charcoal is an essential export commodity and the demand is rising globally. Namibia ranks among the top 10 charcoal exporting countries. As Tjiho explains, he quickly realised that the real driver of the charcoal industry today is the demand for quality products.
“I realised the issue of demand and the requirements of the customers where the products are being sold, especially in Europe, the customers are conscious about their products. They need to meet environmental and social standards. This was when I first heard about FSC,” said Tjiho.
There are policies and standards in place to ensure sustainability and environmentally sound practices define the charcoal industry in Namibia. One such gold standard of quality environmentally practices is that of FSC certification. The Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) promotes responsible management of the world’s forests, by allowing consumers a way to identify and then, with their purchase, products that are derived using responsible, fair and sustainable practices.
For this, FSC sets standards and provides a system for certification of organisations that want to market their products as FSC certified.
Namibia has 1,6 million hectares of FSC certified area with approximately 320 landowners/managers. For a supplier to become FSC certified, they would need to meet certain principles and requirements including social aspects by providing quality living and safe workspaces, as well as sound environmental practices by ensuring only encroaching species are removed or harvested and that this is done sustainably.
Becoming FSC certified
“Becoming an NCA member opened this door for me. The association was very instrumental in assisting me with the necessary steps for certification.” Tjiho said there are requirements that a producer must first meet to become FSC certified. For example, “things like protective clothing, having first aid kits, housing and some ablution facilities, training the workers, putting physical structures in place, meeting places and so on.”
Housing for workers is another requirement to become FSC certified. As Tjiho stated, he always wanted a sustainable approach to his business and becoming FSC certified, “just fast-tracked my plan.”
“Even in the Forestry Act of Namibia, requirements are saying you shouldn’t cut down protected trees, and you can cut problematic trees such as encroachers. So, FSC compliments and ensures that we comply with our national regulations and laws. This is very important.”
Tjiho noted that initially, it helped his process to be part of a group scheme together with CMO, especially in securing buyer markets, however, this didn’t mean that he could sit back.
“Wherever you go in life, you will find challenges. You just need to come up with mitigating measures to overcome those challenges. I’m looking forward to improving and growing even more.”
-De-bushing Advisory Service (DAS)