Conservation Agriculture: Adapting to climate change – the Market-First approach

Community Forests and Conservancies – Promising partnerships – a tale of integration
July 15, 2012
Farewell to Ben Beytell – A conservation legend retires
July 15, 2012
Community Forests and Conservancies – Promising partnerships – a tale of integration
July 15, 2012
Farewell to Ben Beytell – A conservation legend retires
July 15, 2012

by Paswell Chisanga, NNF volunteer


As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Namibia Nature Foundation, it is important to remember that not only is conservation about preservation and the efficient use of Namibia’s natural resources, but also about recognising and responding to the effects of a changing climate on the country.

Namibia’s arid environment, recurrent droughts, desertification and the recent unheralded flood events have contributed to making Namibia one of the world’s most vulnerable countries in terms of climate change, and the most impacted in sub-Saharan Africa. It is therefore crucial that we take steps to ‘adapt’ to climate change as a priority.

One of the adaptive measures we at the NNF (along with others in the public and private sectors) have taken, is the concept referred to as Conservation Agriculture (CA), also known as Conservation Farming. We have introduced CA across all the sites where we and our partners work under the Country Pilot Partnership (CPP) programme. In particular, there has been a focus on training and supporting local farmers to grow chilli in the Caprivi Region using CA methods. The aim is to diversify livelihoods, increase food security through the protection of crops, and help increase market opportunities for sales (locally and regionally).

CA is a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production aimed at achieving acceptable profits and high, sustained production levels while conserving the environment at the same time.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation- of the United Nations)

Minimal soil disturbance

The first key CA principle is to practise minimal mechanical soil disturbance (or none at all, depending on the method), as this is essential to maintaining minerals within the soil, minimising erosion, and preventing water loss, all of which are key factors towards improving crop production in rural Namibia.

Chilli production through CA methods and specifically the preferred ‘basin method’ is well suited to this process and soil conditions in the Caprivi. The basin method entails the farmer digging basins (or holes), filling them with mulch and manure, and then planting the seedlings into them.  The basins are more efficient at water utilisation and create a micro-environment perfect for growing. It has been well documented that yields from crops grown according to this method are far higher than those emanating from traditional production methods, which is important for increasing- food security, reducing land under cultivation and leading to improved health through higher food quality.

In addition to this form of CA, the NNF is in the process of developing working partnerships with the Conservation Tillage (CONTILL) Project, coordinated by Namibia Resource Consultants in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture to introduce additional CA methods across the Kavango and Caprivi regions. CONTILL promotes, for the first year, the minimal use of technology to rip and furrow the soil for deep penetration, shattering compaction and furrowing for in-field water harvesting (increasing it by more than 150%). In the second and subsequent years, draught animal rippers can be used along the same lines to allow concentrated fertility and moisture to build up. This in turn reduces further compaction of soils, which increases soil erosion. Conservation tillage has been known to increase yields by as much as 600% when compared to traditional methods. This is one method we at the NNF will seek to encourage in the coming years.

Address shortfalls, secure livelihoods

The NNF is working with rural communities on agricultural projects to help local farmers address shortfalls in food security, and secure livelihoods through income generation. To this effect, we are promoting the so-called Market-First approach to ensure that farmers maximise incomes from their produce while still having produce for their own consumption.

Many development programmes are aimed at increasing crop production to ensure enough food availability for household consumption as food security due to the impact of climate change becomes an increasing concern. While these programmes and initiatives are successful in addressing household food security, they have largely failed to open up access to markets where farmers can sell produce beyond the subsistence level.

The Market-First approach is aimed at transforming subsistence production to a semi-commercial level, with increased income generation as the primary purpose. To further this approach, the NNF facilitated a series of workshops in business planning and marketing for the chilli and vegetable growers in Caprivi, supported by the World Bank-funded ICEMA project. The workshops emphasised the concept and enabled local farmers to learn more about business planning, management, bookkeeping and record keeping, and fluctuating market demands that affect product demand and supply.

Access to markets

An unintended, but positive consequence of the workshops was that the farmers decided, on their own initiative, to create a Farmer’s Association (called Swalisamo, which means ‘working together’ or ‘co-operation’ in the local Lozi language). The Association is a membership organisation of growers the NNF has been working with under the CPP and other programmes across Caprivi. A fundamental output of Swalisamo’s development was to create access to markets through planned production and the establishment of marketing contracts with local retail outlets. There has already been a positive response from the Pick ‘n Pay, Megasave, Kalinki, Kamunu and Shoprite supermarkets. While marketing contracts are yet to be signed – pending further discussions – this is just one of many strategies to implement the Market-First approach.

Discussions are ongoing with the Elephant Pepper Development Trust in Zambia, aimed at establishing a contract to supply Namibian-grown chilli to the African Spice company. This would establish a technical and commercial relationship between the growers and buyers, and create a procedure for exporting chilli that can be applied to countries such as South Africa.

All in all this is a positive beginning, one that the NNF will continue to support in the future. Let us hope that for the next 25 years, the Market-First approach will be the norm for the majority of small- and medium-sized rural farms supported by the NNF and other organisations and individuals across Namibia.

This article appeared in the 2012 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

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