Adaptation of 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
There is a pressing need to adapt agriculture to climate change in Namibia. This is particularly true for the country’s northern communal areas. More than half of Namibia’s 2.3 million inhabitants live in this region. Their main activity is subsistence farming in the form of rain-fed agriculture. Already now, productivity levels are low for both crop and livestock farming. In the case of crop farming, this is mainly due to infertile soils and unreliable rainfall. A few small-scale farmers make use of irrigation; however, this method has limited potential and is capital-intensive. Moreover, climate change will aggravate the situation. Namibia is one of the most arid countries south of the Sahara. Forecasts suggest that it is also likely to be among those most affected by climate change. Temperatures and the variability of rainfall are rising sharply, and droughts and floods are occurring more frequently. Yet small-scale farmers still make little use of climate-adapted farming methods. In an effort to increase the adoption of climate adapted farming methods, the Namibian government launched the “Comprehensive Conservation Agriculture Programme 2015-2019” in 2015. Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a production system based on the principles of minimum mechanical soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotation. The method reduces erosion and helps to use water more efficiently. It is therefore well suited to increase resilience against climate change. CA can be practiced manually or mechanically. The manual potholing method, where a hoe is used to dig planting holes, is labour intensive and therefore only suitable for small areas. There are several variations of the mechanised form of CA, either animal-drawn or tractor-drawn. The main method used in Namibian pilot areas is the ripper furrowing method, where furrows with a depth of approximately 30 cm are created that break through the compacted soil (“hard pan”). Though CA can help increase resilience against climate change, it also faces challenges, which need to be addressed. E. g., the biomass required to ensure soil cover is not easy to obtain due to low productivity and competition for biomass. Another problem is weeds: since ploughing is no longer practised in CA, weeds may increase particularly in the first years after conversion to CA. These and other issues need to be addressed in order to make CA a successful and sustainable production system.
Small-scale farmers in northern Namibia are successfully using climate-adapted farming methods.
The project currently supports the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) with the implementation of the “Comprehensive Conservation Agriculture Programme 2015-2019” in three regions: Kavango West, Kavago East, and Zambezi.
It works mainly through the ministry’s extension services and focuses on the following four areas of action.
- Farmer trainings
Farmers are trained in the practical application of CA. Lead farmers undergo special training in order to pass on their knowledge to other farmers. The project conducts training measures, supports farmer associations and cooperatives, and facilitates exchange visits. The training contents cover sustainable agricultural practices as well as elements of nutrition in order to address both the issue of availability and access to food and the issue of food intake.
- Agricultural services
Trainers and technicians are given further training and receive support in their day-to-day work. In addition to supporting agricultural advisory services, the project promotes services in the areas of soil cultivation, seeds, and fertilisation. Advisory approaches are designed in a gender specific manner, and advisors are made aware of the specific needs of women. The project advises private providers of CA soil cultivation services in organisational and business matters. Training content on the adaptation of agriculture to climate change is made available to the Namibia Training Authority (NTA), in order to be included in the national training programme for agriculture. In addition, the project offers the Namibian government logistical advice on the provision of subsidies for agricultural inputs.
- Knowledge management
There is still lack of sound evidence on which CA practices are best suited for Namibian conditions. In cooperation with the University of Namibia, the Namibian University of Science and Technology, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), field trials have been set up, and the impact of CA methods will be evaluated in a scientific manner. The findings will be used to further develop the CA approach and to compile training materials.
- Policy support
MAWF is supported with mainstreaming climate change issues, particularly adaptation to climate change, in its policies and strategies. The project provides specific further training for MAWF staff, focusing on climate change issues and possible mitigation and adaptation mechanisms. It also organises workshops and forums on national and regional level that deal with adaptation to climate change and CA.
The project started in mid-2015 with a national workshop on CA, which served as the kick-off for the national CA programme. Over the following years, the project supported the organisation of regular national and regional CA forums. In the cropping seasons 2016/2017, 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, all governmental extension staff in the three target regions received CA trainings, as well as approximately 260 Lead Farmers. A Lead Farmer competition was organised in 2018. Trainings were also provided to tractor drivers and office bearers of the Namibia National Farmers’ Union (NNFU). Two on-station and 42 on-farm CA trials were set up. At the same time, demonstration plots for farmers were established at 17 Agricultural Development Centres of the MAWF and at the Lead Farmers’ fields. Equipment for CA land preparation was provided to MAWF and all Lead Farmers. In support of CA activities, MAWF seed multiplication and soil analyses were supported.