Climate Change Adaptation in Namibia

Community Based Climate Change Adaptation Project in Namibia

1. Title of Project

Harnessing multiple coping strategies for a holistic approach towards community adaptation to climate change: the use of Conservation Agriculture (CA) [1] in Namibia

2. Local organisation

Creative Entrepreneurs Solutions (CES)
P.O. Box 15314, Oluno-Ondangwa, Namibia
Phone: +264 65241977, Fax: +264 65241977
E-Mail: marie.johansson@iway.na

3. Location of project

Community:Year 2009/2010 [2]: Olukonda, Esheshete, Elondo, OIKE and Siya/Kapako communities;
Year 2010/2011 expanded to Tsandi, Engela, Ongenga and Ondangwa communities.
Provinces:During 2009: Oshikoto, Omusati and Kavango regions, to be expanded to Oshana and Ohangwena regions during 2010.
Country:Namibia

4. Project duration

Project start: 1 December 2009
Project closer(expected):1 December 2011

5. Contacts

i) Dr. Charles O. Nyandiga [3]
UN-CBA Coordinator, Energy and Environment Group, BDP
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
304 East, 45th. Street, New York City, 10017, USA
Phone: +1 212-906-5832, Fax: +1 212-906-6998
Email:Charles.nyandiga@undp.org
www.undp-adaptation.org/project/cba

ii) Mr. Nickey L. //Gaseb
National Coordinator
UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme
PO Box 245, Windhoek, NAMIBIA

Tel: +264 61 248 345, Fax: +264 61 248344,

www.nnf.org.na
http://sgp.undp.org

6. Summary of practice

Long term objectives:To build resilience and adaptation to climate change of agro-pastoral communities through improved soils management practices including conservation agriculture in combination with appropriate crop rotation and composting practices that adds coping levels of staple food crops (Mahangu) [4] and legumes (cow peas and ground nuts).

Short term objectives: to demonstrate through a participatory a process, the identification of climate change drivers, risks and adaptive solutions using a vulnerability reduction assessment method through organized social cohesive groups, trainings, piloting and awareness.

Problems addressed:The key problems facing the target communities in the regions are extreme local climate events evidenced by pronounced drought and floods, increase and variable temperatures, increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns and amounts, severe land degradation leading to loss of productive arable land and range, loss of livestock, as well as high levels of deforestation and over utilization of natural resources.

The targetcommunities:The groups involved are from eight villages and one centre for orphans, vulnerable children and their communities [5]. The target groups comprise subsistence farmers (of whom the majority are women and youth) who to a higher degree depends on rain fed agriculture (planting pearl millet, maize, sorghum, ground nuts and cowpeas), natural resources (collecting fruit and oil from the wild) and livestock rearing both for subsistence as well as cash incomes in the semi arid areas of northern Namibia.

7. Context/Approach description

The region receives floods from the Angolan side of the boarder which in the past was under civil strife. The Namibian soils in the north can be described as brittle with light, low clay contents and fertility with serious lack of phosphorous. This means that any little amounts of nutrients are leached deep in the soils away from the possibility of most food crops reaching them.

Local climate change and its variability pose risks and vulnerability to the poor and marginalized communities through its physical impacts and its contribution to the formation of hard pans and alkalinization due to prolonged water stagnation in the farms and fields.  This negatively affects food, water securities and general livelihoods. To safeguard the livelihoods, the target communities’ have been supported to improve farm gate incomes, diversification of sources of other farm based incomes and proper utilization of farmlands. The farms sizes average 1.5 ha each which is also small for such an arid area. Communities in the area also rely on wild natural resources (vegetables, nuts and fruits), chicken and goat for food sources. However, poverty is widespread and food insecurity increases due to failed harvest and decrease in livestock numbers and products because of drought and floods that affects agricultural and range land.

The CBA approach takes cue from the country programme national strategies on adaptation. The CBA specific strategies are expected to make significant impact on community development, capacity building to stem against climate change related factors and drivers, and poverty reduction. One strategic approach used here is the Conservation Agriculture the links Climate change Adaptation and poverty alleviation which is showing immense success as evidenced by an increase of yields of up to 500% . This enables farmers to secure their own food supply and to market their surplus. Farmers are leaving their age old ineffective practices and quickly adapting to conservation tillage practices. Furthermore, Conservation Agriculture allows farmers to diversify production (for instance sunflower oil and chicken feed simultaneously) to boost food security, incomes and nutrients. Conservation Agriculture stems against negative effects of floods, droughts, irregular rainfall patterns, rises in temperature and soil degradation.

8. Community involvement

The community members organize themselves in Self Help Groups and implement the CBA strategies that have been derived through a participatory vulnerability reduction assessment exercise. Their participation is on a voluntary basis but efforts are made to have proper community structural representation. The local NGO (CES) and partners are creating a support system that communities direly need to prepare themselves to cope in the short term and adapt in the long run to changes in the local climates. This is a necessary support system that ranges from advisory functions, information provision, procuring necessary tools, implements, relevant seeds; making of compost fertilizers and services including fabrication and introduction of renewable energy technologies. This strategy of providing what one may call a support system is ensuring a very high level of community participation and motivation.

At the Strategic level, Creative Entrepreneurs Solutions applies a holistic and practical bottom-up approach in the implementation of the adaptation activities for optimizing sustainable impact and empowerment of the target communities.  This approach entails facilitating and creating an enabling environment through partnering with strategic partners and stakeholders such as line ministries, local authorities, national and international institutions of higher learning, traditional authorities, farmer’s organizations, vocational training centers, NGOs, and CBOs that will form task teams of support to the communities.

Additionally, the community members are encouraged to form Self Help Groups (SHG) where one member of each community functions as that community’s coordinator, and is appropriately trained for this responsibility. The approach of SHG formations builds on existing experiences and successes of similar interventions on the African and Asian continents where social mobilization through SHG models, education and empowerment at the grass roots level form a vital foundation. SHG is a platform for knowledge sharing, duplication of successful CBA strategies, savings and enterprise creation using surpluses towards poverty alleviation.

The implementation strategy is rather unique: it emphasizes sustainable development founded on social mobilization and empowerment at group and or community levels, Self Help Groups formation and exploiting its cohesiveness, skills trainings, mentorship and on site farmer-farmer learning through on-farm demonstrations. The CES support system is based on creating an enabling environment for targeted and sustained community development. It promotes sustainable livelihoods as a means to adapt to climate change.

9. Results & Lessons learned

9.1 Results

As at now, the CBA program has 40 community members practicing Conservation Agriculture on their small holding farms, and in addition, approximately 73 community members are practicing and test validating the practices in community owned plots. Similarly, a group of women in a women led CBO (OIKE) are testing Conservation Agriculture on several plots within their region further north of Namibia. The two localities have some commonalities in that for all of them, the community members face problems with either floods or droughts on their individual farms or their community farms and these problems have led to crop failures and increased food insecurity.  In late 2009, these problems were contained in that it was the first time they applied Conservation Agriculture [6].

In Namibian CA, a ripper equipped with wings is used. The hard crest underneath the light-sandy top soil is broken open by the ripper at a depth of 30 cm, allowing water retention and deep root penetration below the hard alkaline (salty) layer and the feeder roots to get to where the nutrients are found (about 30 cms deep in the soil). At the same time the wings makes a furrow that collects the rain water and directs it to the base of the furrow and into the ripped area where the plants are growing. Research and on-farm trials have proven that this method is handling problems associated with less moisture in the soil (drought) as well as flooding (allows and increases infiltration) excellently. The in-field water harvesting concentrates the rain water to the plants and during flooding the abundant excess water finds its way through the ripped compaction layer thus preventing water logging. To take care of the costs, rippers have been made to be used by oxen’s, to adapt to age old cultivation method by the communities, as well as tractors and both gives more or less similar results in terms of increases in harvests.

To mirror the adaptable community based cultivation methods (slash and burn) in the expansive Namibian semi-arid lands, crop rotation of legumes with fields originally having pearl millet/m aize/sorghum, coupled with composting of plants residues are no cost fertilizing methods that work well in combination with ripping/furrowing for the communities. Similarly, introduction of improved but locally tested and derived seeds, as one of the support systems offered by the local partner, is another important adaptation factor that uses indigenous knowledge by communities for themselves. During 2010 the participating communities were testing drought resistant pearl millet and white maize which gave very good plant development and are expecting high yields this year in May/June (see plate 6 which shows fields under traditional rain-fed beans that provides the nitrogen fixing functions in the croplands)

In the CBA program CES, its local partners and community members aim not only to pilot the climate change adaptive qualities of CA as a technique, but also to undertake applied research and document the drivers of adaptation by the farmers to the new technology of dryland farming, but still using traditional rain-fed crops, as well as changing planting and fertilizer practices such as using plant residues, manure and crop rotation.

Comparatively, the farming on land that was ripped and furrowed in January/February 2010 and followed CONTILL [7] best practices has exceptionally done well (plate 8). All of the project participants that face similar problems with drought or flood but their crops (pearl millet, beans, sorghum and maize) still grew to maturity with higher yields expected than in those fields that were conventionally farmed using traditional methods alone [8]. The project farmers are expecting a bumper harvest from their CA farmlands, particularly from pearl millet (Mahamgu) – the national staple food crop in the region (plates 7&8).

9.2 Critical Success Factors

The critical success factors are:

Awareness created and strategic mobilization in the communities: Community members have witnessed what one can describe as an instant but telling result with Conservation Agriculture. The awareness has been done in-situ by involving communities from the germination of crops, through the growing period and to now a stage where bumper harvests are expected in comparison to the fields where conventional traditional farming methods (disc-harrow or hand hoeing) were used. This particular situation also befitted from support of volunteers who could work with farmers at local and remote levels, carrying the communities with them during the process. These results are illustrated in the photos below.

Applied and Appropriate Technology support: The in-field water harvesting aspect of ripping/furrowing is a factor that allowed for continuous growth even when the rains have been scarce and inadequate during the farming season. Similarly, the fields that CA was applied did not get waterlogged, less alkaline and moisture was retained for a longer period when torrential downpours occurred as a result of erraticness of rainfall attributable to climate change in the region. The technology has also ensured that the Plants are stronger and will give much higher pearl millet yield if the current situation and this is supported by the past trials in the region that gave scientific data that showed an average of 209 kg/ha from conventionally/traditional ploughed fields (plate 2 & 5) to realizable 1,176 kg/ha from CA fields which obviously contributes vastly to food security (plate 3). The technology ensures that a meter of row spacing which contains about 300 mm water from the conversion of a rainfall event can now hold up to 520 mm within the same space and area (Marsda, 1993) [9]. This is the fundamental principle in which conservation tillage is premised.

Using the known’s (Seeds source) to the unknowns (testing new technologies): An important factor is that CA is an improved farming system where the technique itself is new to the community in question but the crops used are the traditional ones (although the seeds went through an improvement programme locally). The CA technique and improved traditional seeds are the vehicles of adaptation in this case that allows farmers to carry on with their preferred traditional rain fed crops in an improved farming system. This seems to be a major factor contributing to the success of CA as an adaptation strategy. Mixing unknowns with the knowns reduces cultural shock and enhances acceptability while reducing risks associated with adoption but enhances adaptability of the actors.

Applied experimentation in real situations and diversification of risks of failure: CA also allows farmers to experiment with new crops and technology. In Namibia, the project farmers this year introduced yet another crop, the sunflower in order to produce cooking oil and chicken feed to diversify incomes and livelihoods (plate 7). The plants are strong and benefiting from the in-field water harvesting in the CA furrows with less contribution to the primary crops. For example, one of the groups has already started to harvest white maize from their CA community plot with splendid yields of 2-3 cobs on each plant and produced such a surplus that the community is marketing green maize daily at an open air markets (plate 9). The data related to the yield this year will be presented in a separate report.

The need to have a functioning and continuous community based support systems: A vital successful factor is the importance of having a working and reliable support system that is community based for the target community (farmers) in the forms of service provision (ripping/furrowing), subsidised fertilizer, technology inputs and advisory services. This support system can be sourced from NGO/s, CBOs, FBO’s, Civil Society and Government extension services, as well as tailor made ongoing community based research on applicable best practices, lessons, improvement of inputs (seeds) and infrastructure (private sector based support). This ensures adaptability and coherence support required for successful uptake of adaptation measures.           

9.3. Transferability

There is great transferability and duplicability potential in CA in and outside Namibia. As an adaptation measure Conservation Agriculture is ideal for unpredictable rainfall events and patterns as well as for an arid area with light, alkaline soils such as those of northern Namibia.  It is been suggested that this process and technology could work well in similar areas such as in the Kwa Zulu Natal province of South Africa, most parts of Australia, Ethiopia and Zambia.

By applying CA, compost based fertilizer/manure and practicing a crop rotation involving leguminous plants within a regime that is workable and profitable to the communities does ensure that returned plant residues contributes to improve the soils leading to all crops yield at small farms household levels and contributing to the community food security and adaptability to climate change events that exacerbates drought and flooding.

For example, in Namibia an animal drawn ripper/furrower has been developed by a local consultancy firm-CONTILL, allowing not only tractor owners to become CA service providers but also allowing community’s themselves to increase households income which if ploughed back to the farms ensures sustainability of CA ripping/furrowing [10]. CA has to be done in a systematic way and does require some financial resources. Plans are advanced for the project and partners to assist communities to procure animal drawn ripping/furrowers for the initial project assisted farmers and communities to further pilot its adoptability and adaptability within other communities living in similar climatic areas that will be the project pilot sites in the coming rain seasons in 2010/2011.  

It is been argued that the best model is one where a community starts with 15 CA test strips at small hold farming level, then neighbours are invited to a ‘farmer’s day similar and modelled along the lines of a farmer’s field schools approach’ to a demonstration of a CA where they see, hear and learn from the already practicing farmers themselves. Under this arrangement, in terms of methodological approach, ideally ploughing service providers should be encouraged to purchase CA implements and offer ripping/furrowing services at a fee that is affordable by farmers.  This scenario will obviously bring on board micro-finance institutions ran by CA farmers themselves in a way that subsidizes the farmer’s fees and further offers trainings, advisory and marketing support systems. The Namibian case is at this stage of development given that adoption and adaptation to current technology (use of ripper) is been successful and what is being worked out is how to sustain and put in process a ‘self regulating mechanisms” in place.

10. Additional key information

The photographs (plates) below are included as illustrations to show the success of CA and failures of the traditional and conventional disc harrowing systems in the study region of northern Namibia near Angolan borders in a flood prone area (Oshana).

Plate 1:Degraded soil and wind erosion
(Photo: Courtesy of CONTILL/NRC) 

Plate 2: Conventionally ploughed field with water logging (Photo: Courtesy of CONTILL/NRC)

Plate 3: Conservation Agriculture: a community field that has been ripped/furrowed to create in-field water harvesting. The hard crest below the top soil has been ripped 30 cm deep allowing roots to grow deep and flood water to be absorbed. (Photo:  Courtesy of Tuhafeni Nghilunanye, CES)

Plate 4: Monica Nepembe and Agronomist Patricia Sheehama (Extension officer of Namibian Government) (Photo: Tuhafeni Nghilunanye, CES)

Plate 5: Poor plant development in the Sheehama conventionally ploughed field using disc-harrow in a conservation agriculture test strip (Photo: Tuhafeni Nghilunanye, CES)

Traditional rain fed beans Sunflowers for cooking oil
Plate 6: Traditional rain fed beans in CA field
(Photo: Andreas Tweendeni, CES)
Plate 7: Sunflower for cooking oil and chicken feed in CA field (Photo: Andreas Tweendeni, CES)
Plate 8: CBA project assisted farmer next to her CA pearl millet field three months after planting
(Photo: Andreas Tweendeni, CES)
Plate 9: CBA project assisted members marketing surplus white green maize in April 2010
(Photo: Tuhafeni Nghilunanye, CES)

The maize was produced on a community plot ripped/furrowed in January 2010. None of the group members have ever before experienced surplus yields for income generation.


[1] Conservation agriculture in Namibia was introduced by CONTILL and picked up by the CBA project in Namibia as a best practice and has been popularized as an adaption strategy to cope with drought and floods that is frequent as a result of climate change in the Northern Region of the country.

[2] The rain season in Namibia spans from November to April.                 

[3] Correspondences and contact author for all future enquiries.

[4] Local popular name for Perl Millet planted by the local communities in Namibia

[5] Additionally, CES is also supporting local community based organizations (OIKE women group) with the implementation of CBA activities.

[6] Conservation Agriculture has been piloted and researched by CONTILL in Namibia since 2004. CA in Namibia is still in an evolving phase with new experiences emanating from its application annually used to update the practice.

[7] Conservation Tillage Agriculture

[8] By mid March 2010, growth in one of the farm within the OIKE community fields, far west of the region which did not receive any rainfall at all after planting, was still experiencing slow growth.

[9] Cited in un-dated publicatios of Namibian Resources Consultants (NRC): conservation agriculture in Namibia-an introductory guide, 37 Pg.

[10] In the first year, framers apply ripping/furrowing which must be carried out with a tractor mounted implement as the hard crest under the top soil is too tough to break with an animal drawn implement. However, from  the second up to the fourth year, an animal drawn implement can be used. Then again, a tractor mounted ripper furrower is used in the fifth year and so forth in rotation for good results.