Bush encroachment can simply be defined as the dominant increase in density of woody plant species on a land area. These species can dominate in their native habitats or invade other land areas displacing other plant species, resulting in loss of biodiversity and an imbalanced vegetation type.
There are different woody plant species that are regarded as encroachers in Namibia. The common ones amongst many include; Senegalia mellifera (Black thorn), Dichrostachys cinerea (Sickle bush) and Vachellia reficiens (False umbrella thorn). The distribution of some of these species in the country is widespread, whereas some are confined to certain areas. Further, these woody plants have different valuable uses.
Most of them are valuable as forage resources to livestock, and other socio-economic uses, such as firewood, timber, and medicinal uses amongst others. Bush encroachment in Namibia has significantly affected a larger area of land, estimated at around 40 million hectares. Evidently, the grazing values of the affected areas are reduced, their carrying capacities are reduced far beyond their abilities to sustain livestock.
On that, livestock productivity is compromised, and it has become more costly to maintain livestock on such farming areas. Controlling bush encroachment is a critical effort aimed at restoring these grazing areas back to their natural potential of sustaining livestock. Bush control is an expensive exercise that needs careful planning. Beside bush being regarded as a threat, is it also an untapped opportunity with enormous collateral benefits to the farmer through the production of wood, charcoal and bush feed amongst others.
Charcoal production is gaining momentum in Namibia, and for the purpose of diversification it can be one of the secondary activities on the farm. If well planned, it will contribute greatly to the cash flow of the farm. Any information regarding Bush control and the utilisation thereof can be obtained from institutions such as the Namibia Biomass Industry Group (N-BIG) and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism.
Bush encroachment and the recurrent drought in Namibia continue to negatively affect forage availability in many grazing areas, and this is forcing farmers to spend a lot of money on livestock feed supplementation. In order to lessen this burden, the bush can be converted into animal feeds. Many farmers in the country embarked on bush feed production during the previous drought and have successfully saved their herds.
Bush feed is a business opportunity for farmers to generate extra income and cover the production costs. Some research work and feeding trials have been done in order to establish the correct feed formulations and feed rations that are suitable for different animal groups (cattle, sheep and goats) and feeding purposes (production or maintenance feeding).
There is consistent demand for firewood in Namibia, especially in urban areas and recreational facilities such as lodges for various reasons. These include, cost cutting by reducing dependency on electricity, a main source of energy in informal settlements, and recreational cooking (e.g. braai) amongst others.
Thus, encroaching species can be used as a source of energy at farm level and beyond. Any farm at any given scale will have costs associated with the resource inputs and the operations. These include machinery, transportation, and labour costs amongst others.
On that, bush control operations require careful financial planning and resource allocation for efficiency and the desired outcome.
Access to finance or credit has been one of the hindering factors for many farmers, however, credit providers such as Agribank of Namibia have created that opportunity for farmers to take up loans for purposes of bush control and biomass utilisation.