Amidst extreme drought conditions in Namibia, farmers are forced to innovate to ensure the survival of their livestock. A recent study1 shows that the production of animal feed from encroacher bush has transformational potential for agriculture in a country where 30 million hectares of farmland are affected by bush encroachment. Turning a threat into a valuable biomass resource, bush-based animal feed production has now become a viable option for Namibian farmers with new ‘Bos-tot-Kos’ methods and machinery.

Solar power used to produce livestock feed from the bush1

The downside to this solution is that it is electricity-intensive, and that can be the stumbling block for farmers in remote locations with expensive and/or limited grid power supply. Solar energy company SolarSaver is providing a rent-to-own solution to address this. The company recently installed a 52 kWp off-grid solar PV system with 160 solar panels, batteries and a back-up generator at Farm Otjomasso North (Bronkhorst), a cattle and sheep farm in Hochveld. The farm, located 50 kms from the nearest power line, now uses the off-grid solar system to successfully power the Bos-tot-Kos machinery the farm installed to produce livestock feed from the bush.

Stefan Kleemann from SolarSaver says there is huge potential to provide farmers with solar power for this type of machinery and other needs in the most remote locations. “The energy we can harness from Namibia’s abundant sunshine provides enough power for the machinery required. This significantly enhances the sustainability of farming operations in these areas,” says Kleeman.  “Solar installations enable remote farms like Farm Otjomasso North (Bronkhorst) to use the machinery they need at a much lower cost than diesel generators. For example, the off-grid solar battery system at Bronkhorst is operating at N$ 25 000 per month, while operating with diesel generators would cost close to double that.”

While Kleeman says transporting these complex off-grid systems to remote locations and ensuring they continue to operate most effectively can be a challenge, SolarSaver has developed an innovative containerised solution to solve these problems. “The containerisation of the system on the farm is a very neat solution which allows the panels to operate at maximum capacity. Built-in air-conditioning ensures the temperature in the container is kept at 25 degrees for optimal performance of the equipment.”

In terms of affordability, both Bos-tot-Kos and SolarSaver offer rental options to counteract the usually prohibitive capital costs associated with these systems. SolarSaver installs the solar photovoltaic system at no capital outlay for the farmer. “We offer clients solar solutions on a rent-to-own basis. Customised systems are designed and installed free-of-charge, and clients then only pay against the actual performance of the system, benefiting from the cheaper, greener power that is produced,” says Kleeman.  Importantly, SolarSaver also takes care of ongoing monitoring, maintenance and insurance. “With farmers facing major challenges, this at least offers a Capex-free, hassle-free way to harness solar power,” he concludes.

Bush encroachment hampers agricultural productivity and threatens the livelihoods of many Namibians. The shortage of grass for livestock is a direct consequence and is intensified in times of drought. Despite the negative impacts, the encroacher bush is a huge biomass resource, estimated at about 200 to 300 million tonnes. Measures used to combat bush encroachment create positive opportunities for the Namibian economy, such as the use of the resource for electricity generation and value chain development in other sectors. De-bushing, therefore, offers the potential to increase agricultural productivity, economic growth, employment and energy security; without competing with food production.

1 Report: Encroacher Bush to Animal Feed - Viability of Bush Based Feed Production in Namibia (2017) – A research project of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Sustainable Management of Namibia’s Forested Lands Project (NAFOLA).

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