WINDHOEK - The impact of climate change continues to have devastating effects on countries across the globe, and Namibia has not been spared.
Namibia experienced one of its worst droughts in decades in 2013, and since then the country has seen substantial depletion of livestock as well as crop failure due to persistent drought conditions. Namibia is also ranked seventh on the UN’s list of most vulnerable countries. Dr Axel Rothauge, foremost Namibian expert on drought and desertification, says lacking a national drought reserve and fodder bank, desperate farmers will simply over-utilise drought-stricken rangeland and degrade it; contrary to the aims of various policies and strategies. “We have no forage-based feeding facilities that can temporarily absorb destocked livestock and delay marketing to stabilise prices and farmer incomes,” he laments.
Dr Rothauge says at a time that drought-stricken farmers need the income the most, they get the least for their livestock. At the same time, the price of drought fodder escalates astronomically - when farmers need it most but can least afford it. According to him, north-eastern Namibia could produce enough animal feed to support drought-stricken central and southern Namibia with extra grazing, hay and silage, to the benefit of the “grass farmers” in the north-east and the drought-stricken farmers elsewhere who depend on very expensive, imported hay.
Prof Francois Engelbrecht, chief researcher for climate studies, modelling and environmental health at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), says the increase in temperatures across Southern Africa over the last five decades can be directly attributed to the enhanced greenhouse effect, or anthropogenic forcing. “Southern Africa is projected to become generally drier, with more El Niño-related droughts. Oppressive temperatures and heatwave-related events are projected to occur more frequently across the Southern African region.”
Consequently, the economic environment will be affected, as shifts in farming activities are inevitable. “Southern Africa has been identified by the ‘Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C’ as one of the regions in the world where climate change will impact most negatively on economic growth, considering the widespread impact on the agriculture sector,” says Engelbrecht.
“The effects include temperatures in the interior regions of Southern Africa that are increasing at about twice the global rate, and extreme temperature events affects numerous agricultural industries, such as crop yields and livestock production.” In response to the changing and often erratic climatic conditions seen over the past few decades, the Department of Science and Technology launched the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA).
The second edition, published last year, urges planners and decision makers to move from reactive crisis management to proactive climate change and disaster risk management approaches. Should regional warming reach levels of about 6°C towards the end of the second half of the century, the collapse of the maize crop and livestock industries may plausibly occur in Southern Africa. El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. During this phase, the Pacific Ocean normally warms up by 0,01 percent . But with global warming, the temperature increase has climbed to 0,1 percent and it could possibly rise to one percent if global warming continues on its current path.
Both Rothauge and Engelbrecht note that the sub-Saharan climate will be especially affected by climate change.
As temperatures shift, many regions that were once suited to certain crops might no longer produce an adequate yield.
They both advise that each agricultural industry plan carefully to adapt to the impact of climate change over the next few decades.
The likely occurrence of more frequent heatwaves and more frequent droughts suggests that dryland agriculture will increasingly require drought- and heat-resistant crops.
Experts also fear that the warmer and wetter conditions with higher drought occurrence will increase plant pests and diseases, as drought-stressed vegetation is more susceptible to such complications.
Alien invaders tend to adapt easily, so they will survive, while planted crops struggle. This will make it more difficult to combat weeds. With drought events on the increase and extended periods of below-average rain, there’ll be 31% more heatwaves, resulting in more veld fires.
“To avoid global warming of 1,5°C or more, carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced globally by 45 percent by 2030 with respect to 2010 levels. To achieve this, the world needs to revolutionise the way energy is generated on the planet, with a major shift required from the use of fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy. Science tells us that it’s still possible for a global climate change mitigation effort to be successful,” Engelbrecht notes.