C. Becker on Sustainability in Semi-Arid Namibia Grasslands

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To listen to Prof. Christian Becker discuss strategies for maintaining the health of semi-arid grasslands in Namibia, and the following discussion, click on HERE and listen on ITunesU. 

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In his presentation to class, Christian Becker discussed a research project on grazing strategies in two semi-arid regions of Namibia. Due to the variability of rainfall, farmers and herders in these areas had elaborate coping strategies to maintain economic and ecological equilibrium. Due to the success of these regions, Becker explained that they serve as valuable examples of sustainable grazing strategies.
One important finding of the study was that many factors influenced the grazing strategies used. For example, economic factors (such as availability of credit during dry years) or social factors (such as population growth) can play a role in whether or not the farmers rest fields and when. These socio-cultural factors thus interplay with the ecological factors such that the needs of humans, animals, and nature all reciprocally affect one another. This is a great example of how ecological issues are more than just about natural forces. In order to understand ecological phenomena, one must consider it within specific political, social, and economical parameters.
I was sad to hear that even a study like this faced difficulty in directly communicating with the populations being studied. Perhaps this is a good lesson to future research projects on similar topics; in order to fully communicate with the local populations, the research team must include an anthropologist or other specialist who is familiar with the language and culture of the society. Through direct communication perhaps more detailed information can be gleaned about the socio-cultural implications of certain ecological phenomena.
I enjoyed Christian Becker’s presentation because it introduced me to something that I had never before considered. I enjoyed looking at how natural phenomena (rainfall, land type) affects and is affected by local practices that attempt to sustainably use the land, and also how these practices could differ based on cultural and geographical differences.

On Monday, Dr. Christian Becker presented our class a discussion on sustainability, knowledge, and science. His presentation of his research that combined multiple disciplines from University of Heidelberg, and the UFZ - Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle in the Namibian rangelands. The researchers united to study two areas in the Namibian rangeland to observe ways that both non-Western knowledge functions and can be coupled with Western science and economics to mutually benefit both parties. Dr. Becker explained the choice of area of study for its applicability as a model: rangeland (Dwarf shrub savanna specifically) is an extremely common type of ecosystem that covers around two-thirds of the landmass of the earth. This way, generic ecologic models could be widely applied.

One central component of his lecture was the impact of global changes (both political and physical) that could potentially cause extreme change in an already variable area. This observation was reflected in the two sites in Namibia Dr. Becker et al surveyed: Gamis and Ova-Himba. These two areas, though different in specific cultural aspects, grazing strategies were based around what essentially (either through a “rotational grazing system” or “mobile grazing system,” respectively) was an indigenous, long-term, sustainable agricultural methodology.

Grazing was based on an understanding of the relationship between green and reserve biomass — the first being visible plant material and the second the life sustaining root systems in the pastures. At the end of the rainy season in both the Gamis and Ova-Himba, farmers made choices based on the potential of the ecosystem to sustain additional life (i.e. feedstock) and thus maintain a balanced relationship with the production capacity of the environment.

Lastly, Dr. Becker made the interesting point to help define sustainability in a very narrow manner compared with some of the other literature we’ve covered: the “sustainability” Dr. Becker deals with is more compatible with our other discussions of long-term agricultural planning rather than the sustainable development we discussed previously with Dr. Logan.

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