Adapting agriculture to climate change
Title: Adaptation of agriculture to climate change in Northern Namibia
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Lead executing agency: Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF)
Overall term: 2015 to 2019
Namibia is the driest sub-Saharan country and is among the countries most severely affected by climate change. This is threatening food security, particularly in Namibia’s densely populated northern region, where more than half of the population of 2.3 million live. The main activity in this region is subsistence agriculture, which is primarily rainfed. Older people are often left to carry out the agricultural work, as younger people are moving to urban areas.
Crop production and livestock farming are only possible to a limited extent. This is primarily due to infertile soil and unreliable rainfall patterns. Where possible, smallholders apply shifting cultivation practices and periodically clear new areas. Since organic and mineral fertilisers are rarely used, soil fertility rapidly diminishes here too. A few small-scale farmers irrigate their fields, but the potential for irrigated agriculture is limited and it is a very cost-intensive method.
Additional productivity losses due to climate change are expected in the region. Crop production in particular is already being affected by climate change. Temperatures are rising, rainfall is variable, and droughts and floods are becoming more frequent. It is likely that by 2050, current methods of rainfed agriculture will be viable only in Kavango East and Zambezi.
Despite the reductions in yields already seen in association with climate change, so far very few small-scale farmers have begun applying climate-adapted cultivation methods.
Small-scale farmers in Northern Namibia successfully apply climate-adapted farming practices.
Conservation agriculture is a promising method for adapting farming to climate change. This is the main focus of the project. Conservation agriculture is based on three principles: soil is no longer ploughed, crop rotation is practised using a variety of crops, and the soil is always covered with vegetation or plant residues. As a result, soil fertility can be increased and water losses reduced. In June 2015, Namibia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) formulated a comprehensive programme for the widespread introduction of conservation agriculture.
The project supports implementation of this programme in the Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions. It is training farmers in climate-adapted cultivation practices, improving delivery of agricultural services, promoting research and knowledge management, and developing capacities at MAWF.
The project is using a ‘lead farmer’ approach, in which so-called lead farmers set up demonstration fields and train other farmers in their villages. At the same time, scientific experiments are carried out in order to tailor the conservation agriculture approach more closely to local conditions. These experiments are being carried out in cooperation with two local universities – Namibia University of Science and Technology and the University of Namibia – and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
All state extension agents in the target regions and some 240 farmers in over 140 villages have received training in conservation agriculture so far. The majority of them have created demonstration plots and have thus started to provide training to other farmers. In addition, rippers are increasingly being provided by state and private service providers, and this is helping more and more farmers to cultivate their soils in a manner that is compatible with conservation agriculture. Initial yield measurements have shown that increases in yields of 70 per cent and, in certain cases, even 100 per cent have been achieved on the demonstration plots as compared with plots that are cultivated using traditional methods.