Minister of Environment, Forestry and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta says the 45 million hectares of the country that is bush encroached could generate a massive 1.5 billion tonnes of biomass, for which 30% could be harvested sustainably.
According to him, nearly 2 million tonnes of biomass are harvested every year, translating into thousands of job opportunities for young people.
Shifeta said this during the official opening of the Standard Bank Biomass Fair on Friday, at Gross Barmen near Okahandja.
Biomass is renewable organic materials, such as wood, agricultural crops or wastes, and municipal waste, particularly when used as a source of fuel or energy. Biomass can be burned directly or processed into biofuels such as ethanol and methane.
“While bush encroachment is an environmental challenge, I hold a view that it also has enormous opportunities for wealth and job creation for our people,” the Minister said.
He said the Ministry has noticed with concern that some people in the biomass sector resort to unsustainable methods of bush control.
Shifeta explained that it is against this backdrop that the government as the regulator, is yearning to work with the industry to ensure the bush biomass resources are exploited in a responsible manner to achieve both rangeland restoration while safeguarding environmental well-being.
“Government is acutely aware that some sections of the Namibian society are not fully participating in some of the bush value chains such as charcoal production.
“My ministry is also aware of the continuous challenges experienced by players in the biomass sector, namely the delays in carrying out farm inspections, issuing of permits and non-compliance with the Environmental Management Act (EMA) provisions,” the Minister mentioned.
To address these challenges, he said the Ministry is reforming its procedures and currently working on a number of proposals. He further mentioned the introduction of the Forest and Environmental Management Plan for farms.
This plan is meant to capture comprehensive data of a given land unit, available allowable biomass, current biomass uses and as well as environmental parameters, and will culminate in the applicant receiving the Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC) and a harvesting permit.
The Minister further said the biomass sector has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 10 years. “Thanks in large part to the cooperation between Namibia and Germany, which saw significant investment into the biomass sector through the GIZ Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation Project.”
Several wood pellet projects for export markets are currently being developed in the country.
About four industrial operations in Namibia use bush biomass to replace fossil fuel for process heat.
It is also believed that new small-scale energy generation systems, that can produce power from biomass, could contribute to rural electrification challenges domestically and the NamPower Otjikoto Biomass Project is also moving forward to financial close.
“Namibia’s biomass sector can create thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of revenue in the country, tackling climate change and creating a vibrant future for all Namibians. It is vital that we develop ‘technovation’ in the biomass sector – innovation linked with technology,” said NUST Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation & Partnerships Dr. Colin Stanley.
Speaking on the SteamBioAfrica Initiative which explores torrefaction of biomass to create a sustainable fuel, Stanley said, “SteamBio’s torrefied new fuel is likely to ignite the domestic fuel energy market.”
Bush encroachment is a natural phenomenon characterised by the excessive expansion of bush at the expense of other plant species, especially grass.
Bush encroachment is estimated to affect up to 45 million ha of Namibian land and has severe negative consequences on key ecosystem services, especially agricultural productivity and groundwater recharge.
Agricultural productivity in Namibia has declined by two thirds throughout the past decades, mainly due to the negative impact of bush encroachment.
The phenomenon affects both commercial and communal farming in Namibia, mostly the central, eastern and north-eastern regions.