Making livestock farming more climate-smart with Dr Axel Part 1

29 Mar 2018

IN THE worst-case scenario, the climate of Windhoek in 2030 will be like the climate of Keetmanshoop today, and the climate of Rundu will be like Okahandja's. Woe the Namibian nation if the northern communal farmers are not successfully commercialised by then!

It can hardly be expected of the 2% of Namibia's farmers living south of today's veterinary cordon fence (VCF) and farming in near-desert conditions by 2030 to produce the amount of food then, as they produce today.

Most of southern Namibia's sheep farmers will have switched to game ranching by then, producing venison, hosting hunters and eco-tourists because farming with wild game animals is just about the last enterprise that makes economic sense in very arid conditions.

However, tourists will not want to see the degraded wastelands that characterise southern Namibia today (see picture), making the restoration of arid landscapes and beautiful vistas a bigger priority than ever!

Central Namibia's cattle farmers will do well if they can still manage to farm with goats and sheep. Many already farm with game today and more will do so in the near future. What they can do sensibly is grow out weaner cattle to slaughter, but where would the weaners come from? Not from the Omaheke and Otjozondjupa regions because the climate will be too dry and variable to sustain cow-and-calf herds of cattle.

To breed cows and raise weaner calves requires a constant and reliable supply of roughage feed. The only area that might still have a good fodder flow by 2030 might be the north-central and north-eastern parts of Namibia, today's northern communal areas.

They will still be able to produce weaner calves to sell to farmers south of today's VCF to grow out to slaughter. All the more reason to get rid of the VCF sooner rather than later!

Growing weaner cattle out to slaughter can be adapted to variable fodder flow much more easily than cow-and-calf systems. If the fodder flow declines due to drought, a grower-farmer simply buys in fewer weaners than during good times, or sells growing stock at an earlier age (and lesser mass) than usual.

Today's weaner calves sold to South African feedlots might be all livestock that central Namibian ranchers will be able to farm with in the near future.

At least we will be able to keep and even grow the beef processing value chain (abattoirs and butcheries) in Namibia, providing more jobs and earning more money (foreign exchange).