Namibia’s Programme to Combat Desertification

Popularly described as ‘the land between two deserts’, Namibia is the most arid country south of the Sahel with only approximately 0.4% of the land surface cultivated using rain-fed cropping. The higher rainfall, northern 10% of the land surface supports approximately 50% of the population partially based on mixed subsistence agriculture and is identified as a main high-risk area for desertification. As long ago as 1924, the Drought Investigation Committee came to the conclusion that rangeland degradation and soil erosion “have started” in Namibia. It is generally accepted today that a decline in carrying capacity of Namibia’s rangelands could be 100% or more and that bush encroachment alone is contributing to an economic loss to farmers of about N$1.4 billion per annum.

Namibia’s Programme to Combat Desertification (Napcod) arose out of needs identified at independence in 1990, incorporated into its constitution, and captured in Namibia’s Green Plan taken to Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Nevertheless, the dry years experienced in southern Africa during the early 1990s meant that drought was very much on people’s minds and drought relief was expected. Taking a lesson from the media, desertification and the potential expansion of the Namib and Kalahari Deserts were integrated into the discussion. The conjunction of these three elements provided the background for Napcod, initiated in 1994 under the leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism with funding from the German government.

The programme focused on the 39% of Namibia known as communal farmland, owned by the government but controlled through traditional authorities. This focus was dictated by social, economic and political needs rather than land condition. During the pre-independence period, communal farmlands had not enjoyed benefits from agriculture or water extension services. Nor were these government services prepared for, or experienced in, working with people in communal areas. Nevertheless, soon after independence, the small population of Namibia all harboured the expectation that their livelihoods would improve for the better. At the same time, although very much aware of developments in the international arena, Namibia was expected to ‘do things in the Namibian way’. As a consequence, Napcod adopted a ‘rolling planning’ approach rather than a static National Action Plan as was prescribed by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) when it came into force.

The publication by Seely and Montgomery (2009) that can be downloaded below documents the experiences of the ten-year Napcod programme and its longer term influence, its successes, failures and challenges, and summarizes as best it can the lessons learnt – all from the viewpoint of the primary implementing NGO.

Popular publications by Napcod:
Seely, M. and Montgomery, S. 2009. Proud of our deserts: combating desertification – An NGO perspective on a National Programme to Combat Desertification, ISBN: 978-99945-73-27-1, Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN), Windhoek, Namibia

SDDI 2003. FIRM: The Forum for Integrated Resource Management– putting communities at the centre of their own development process, ISBN: 99916-43-53-2, Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN), Windhoek, Namibia

NAPCOD 2003. Local Level Monitoring for enhanced decision making: a tool for improved decision making by farmers in Namibia, ISBN: 99916-43-54-0, Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN), Windhoek, Namibia

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