As old maps of Africa show, the land had for millennia been open savannah land, where large herds of antelope and other animals roamed, pausing under the watchful eye of predators to graze on only the tops of grasses before moving on to new pastures.
The fencing-off of land and the provision of water for cattle over many decades has led to the degradation of perennial grasses and, in their stead, the spread of largely impenetrable “encroacher” bushes. As a result, an estimated 45 million hectares in Namibia alone have turned into arid bush-encroached land with limited productive use, depleted Soil Organic Carbon and impaired biodiversity.
Equally, the use of fossil-fuel fertilisers by smallholder subsistence farmers and the continuous tilling of plots has led to a cycle of soil depletion. As a result, faced with declining productivity, smallholders have tended to seek permission from the local Chiefs that control land rights to access neighbouring plots and engage in slash-and-burn clearances resulting in deforestation.
A dependence on wood for charcoal used for cooking has resulted in further deforestation.