Three key projects – NNF empowers communities in Caprivi

The valuable contribution by Chris Brown – Namibia’s ‘Dr Green’
July 15, 2012
Trans-boundary fisheries management – Sustainable utilisation of the Caprivi floodplain fish resource
July 15, 2012
The valuable contribution by Chris Brown – Namibia’s ‘Dr Green’
July 15, 2012
Trans-boundary fisheries management – Sustainable utilisation of the Caprivi floodplain fish resource
July 15, 2012

by Steve Felton, WWF NACSO

Three key projects have become essential ingredients in the strategy of the Namibia Nature Foundation to empower communities to manage natural resources and improve their living standards, not only in Caprivi, but also in the rest of Namibia.

Women in field

The NNF works with a host of communal conservancies across Namibia, providing technical support and financial assistance through the Natural Resources Working Group (NRWG), which links it to other NGOs supporting conservancies under the umbrella of NACSO, the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations.

After the rains, the Zambezi and Kwando rivers often flood much of Caprivi, destroying crops. But for the rest of the year most of Caprivi is dry. The soil is sandy, and sufficient rainwater to grow maize or millet is by no means certain. For many Caprivian farmers, trapped between having too much and too little water, poverty is the norm. Hence an innovative rural development programme was born. Managed by the NNF, the Community Empowerment programme has three main elements: conservation agriculture, chilli growing  and fish farming.

Jenny Mubita walks for 30 minutes to the trial plot to till the land before it becomes too hot. It’s hard work digging holes in the sandy soil, but last year she saw the bumper harvest that other farmers produced, and she is keen to repeat their success.

Rosemary Poniso has two things in common with Jenny: she is a widow and poor; and just a few nights ago the elephants came and ate her entire tomato crop. But while Jenny is planting maize, Rosemary is tending to another precious crop: chillies.

At Mwalala pond, near Bukalo village, villagers are busy hauling in a net to sort the unwanted catfish, brought by floodwaters, from the valuable Tilapia they will harvest later in the year for food and to sell.

Conservation agriculture

Nobody knows for sure what climate change will bring. Namibia is likely to become much drier, but erratic weather may bring more frequent flooding. Making the most of the land available will become increasingly important; and that’s what conservation agriculture does.

Jenny pulls a line of string taut along the length of her 10 x 20-metre plot. Using a measuring stick, she marks spaces for holes and carefully digs them out, using another stick to measure the depth. When the work is done, she will bring manure from her cattle kraal and drop a piece in each hole, and when the rains come, the precious seeds will go in. Each completed hole lies 2.5 cm below the surface of the field, to attract and hold water. To lessen the impact of rain, a mulch of stalks from last year’s crop is laid on top.

The harvest promises to be good. Each woman in the trial has two plots: one for maize or millet, and one for cowpeas or groundnuts. The plots are rotated to enrich the soil.

Jenny is happy with her day’s work and sets off home to till her own field until the children come home from school. Although her crop yield should double, feeding, clothing and educating the children costs money that a single woman doesn’t have. But she does own a small number of cattle, and she’s looking forward to next year, when the project will introduce an animal-drawn ripper that will till the soil more efficiently than a plough, using water conservation and soil enrichment principles. If all goes well, women like Jenny should be able to increase the size of their plots as well as their yields.

Chilli farming

Rosemary Poniso heard about the chilli-farming project from the ministry’s agricultural extension office in 2008, and with some other women went to a meeting to find out more about the new idea coming from Zambia across the river. Many villagers had heard that chillies could be used to deter the elephants that trample and eat their crops.

Two techniques have been developed over the years by NGOs in southern Zambia and Caprivi. Chilli ‘bombs’ take advantage of the enemy by using elephant dung. This is mixed 50/50 with broken chilli. When the elephants come to the field, hot coals are placed on the bombs, and the pungent smell keeps the giants at bay. The other method is to soak rags in a mixture of old engine oil and chillies, and to hang them from wire to form ‘chilli fences’.

Wildlife benefits too

Keeping the elephants away from the crops is also part of a strategy to establish wildlife corridors through which elephants in particular can move freely. This way the crops are safeguarded, and villagers don’t come into confrontation with the elephants, which can provoke them, causing further damage.

Conservation agriculture is an important part of the strategy. Smaller fields with greater yields can be cultivated away from wildlife corridors, and are easier to guard with novel methods such as chilli bombs.

Chillies for export

The chillies bought for bombs by NGOs assisting the farmers can be low grade, but as the farmers gain experience, they can produce Tabasco-grade chillies for export. In 2010 a start was made with production. The farmers have to handpick the ripe chillies daily, and select the best grade. The chillies are salted and packed into drums and exported to Zambia, and from there on to other buyers. If production could reach 20 tons a year, it would be worthwhile exporting directly to South Africa and the USA.

Cash crops such as Rosemary’s tomatoes and chillies, and Jenny’s groundnuts and surplus maize, will make all the difference to rural households – as will fish farming.

Low-input fish farming

All over the world fish are farmed in large ponds for commercial sales. But natural fishponds cost much less. They don’t require digging and lining, or expensive water tanks and pipelines. Finger-lings (young fish) are bought with NNF project money from private fish farmers, and each pond is stocked with up to 3 000.

Mwalala pond is relatively small and shared by 15 households. To date only one harvest has been produced. This was in 2009. The fish caught were tilapia, and the villagers ate almost all of them. “People are hungry in the dry season,” says NNF’s Priscah Lilungwe. The ‘low input’ is important, she stresses. The people here are poor and need the maximum results from the minimum input. The fish are fed on leftover millet and maize grain, and the pond is fertilised with cattle dung, which encourages the growth of plankton.

Priscah is enthusiastic about the future: “At Silumbu they took 5 000 big fish, and the Sibula Mundi pond near Lake Liambezi is very big, with thousands of fish. They have four or five harvests a year.” This is a commercial proposition for an area hungry for income.

In Caprivi, as is the case elsewhere, people are adapting to climate change. In Caprivi’s conservancies, with assistance from the NNF, the challenge is to harness natural resources and to benefit by conserving them. In an area bounded by rivers, it is best to go with the flow.

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

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