As part of its programme to protect cheetah habitat the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), based near Otjiwarongo, has launched a business initiative – a fuel log called Bushblok.
Bushbloks are smokeless, long-lasting (each ‘blok’ burns for approximately one-and-a-half hours), burn at a super hot temperature, stack neatly and produce surprisingly little ash. They are made from chipped and milled intruder bush that is compacted with an extrusion press.
Bush encroachment is defined as ‘the invasion of undesired woody species as a result of an imbalance between grass and bush’. The main species causing the problem are Acacia mellifera (black thorn), and Dichrostachys cineria (sickle bush). Bush encroachment is caused primarily by the prolonged denudation of soils caused by droughts and grazing, followed by above-average rainfall years that favour mass tree growth. Secondary reasons for invader bush are injudicious farming practices such as the exclusion of occasional hot veld fires, replacement of indigenous species with cattle, high stocking rates, poor rangeland practices, artificial watering points, restriction of animal movement in the early 1960s due to the foot-and-mouth epidemic and drought subsidies.
Since the 1950s, bush encroachment of approximately 26 million hectares of woodland savannah has resulted in as much as 100% loss of land productivity. The loss of more than N$700 million per annum has had a direct impact on the livelihoods of 65 000 households in communal areas, and over 6 000 commercial farmers. Bush encroachment also impacts adversely on bio-diversity as well as on underground water tables.
Namibia has the world’s largest population of wild cheetah, with 95% living outside protected reserves on farmlands. Cheetahs hunt using bursts of speed in open or semi-open savannah. Thick bush hinders their hunt, affects the biodiversity of prey species, and poses a major livelihood threat to the 70% of the Namibian population involved in agriculture.
In 2001, the CCF and the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) collaborated to find a habitat improvement programme that would be ecologically and economically viable. Research identified a business opportunity to restore the Namibian savannah by processing encroaching bush into compacted logs for use as a cooking fuel or for home heating. CCF Bush (Pty) Ltd was established to manufacture the Bushblok product. The project provides employment for 15 people.
CCF is excited at the potential for combating intruder bush, alleviating the over-exploitation of native trees for firewood, as well as providing local employment possibilities.
This article appeared in the Oct/Nov ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.