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Tses - A project where environmental, economic and human interests meet

Dense standing of feed sorghum just before harvesting
Dense standing of lucern
The wetting profile clearly visible. The entire area between the dripper lines are completely wet to very close to the surface
Dripper lines installed and cultivation block irrigated and ready for seeds to be planted
The area adjacent to the sewage works were the project has been developed
Project members busy installing the subsurface dripper lines
The sewage pond from where the irrigation water is drawn
The barren desert environment around the village of Tses

Around the year 2000 the IMLT with funding support from the HSF conducted a pilot project in the town of Gobabis to assess the viability under Namibian conditions of a concept developed by the United Nations University. The concept, known as the Integrated Bio-Systems (IBS) approached, is based on age-old principles applied by the Chinese and Mayans and revolves around the idea that, in nature, the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts – meaning that if individual natural productive processes are taken in isolation, the productivity of these processes are far less than when they are combined into an integrated whole. In addition, the IBS concept steers away from the linear way of approaching production where all processes have inputs and the outputs are products and wastes. Normally, these waste streams are loaded with energy and nutrients which can become a valuable input in follow on processes. In today’s industrialized societies, these nutrient rich waste streams becomes a environmental problem in that it pollutes the environment to the point where natural processes starts to break down. 

The Gobabis pilot project set out to test whether the re-use of semi-purified waste water could be utilized for fodder crop production while at the same time assess the yields of these crops as well as establishing whether the soil profiles showed any sign of organic pollution or excessive mineral loads. In addition, the pilot was based on the use of the latest irrigation technology – sub-surface drip irrigation. The outcome from the pilot was positive in every sense. It was shown that the nutrient rich effluent together with the sub-surface drip irrigation provided the ideal cropping environment where yields achieved were more than double that achieved through conventional agricultural practices on the one hand and on the other hand that water use efficiency has been 3 time more efficient than norm. This meant that for the same area cultivated it could be expected that it produce twice the normal yield and with a given quantity of water, three times the normal area can be irrigated.

At the completion of the pilot, IMLT was looking for a community where the IBS concept could be introduced as a basis to cultivate animal feeds to be utilized on downstream value-adding activities such as a small-scale dairy with small-scale dairy processing as the highest value adding component in the value chain. Through IMLT’s work in the area of community development, the Tses community in the Karas Region of Namibia was identified as a high potential site to introduce the IBS concept. The community consists of approximately 2,000 inhabitants of which around 70% is unemployed. In addition, the village of Tses is situated in the Kalahari Desert meaning it is faced with an arid and harsh environment. The main economic activity is communal and extensive goat farming. The village does not have a viable local economy and is to a large extent dependent on social and other transfer payments made by central government.

What the village had as a potential resource was unused land and a functional sewage works with enough water to irrigate approximately 3 to 4 hectares. The community leaders realized the potential of the IBS concept and the community and IMLT jointly developed a project proposal that would as a first phase develop 1 hectare of the available land as irrigated area where fodder crops will be cultivated – mainly lucerne and feed sorghum. Funding for the project was sourced from the HSF together with the UNDP’s Country Pilot Programme in Namibia within the Ministry of Environment and Tourism aimed at improved land and natural resources management. The value of the investment in the project at this stage is just more than N$500,000 of which HSF contributed 50%. During the implementation period the project employed 10 members from the community. Now that the project has entered its productive stage, the project employs 4 persons on a permanent basis. The ultimate idea is to expand the project to the optimum cultivatable area at which stage a small goat feedlot will be developed to supply a small-scale abattoir and meat processing facility in the village. These value adding activities is where the real job creation and income generation potential is, but this will not be possible without the foundation, which is the crop production unit.

The beauty of the IBS concept is the fact that it requires no freshwater as it recycles a waste stream which was busy polluting the local environment as well as underground water resources. The utilization of the nutrient load in the water means that no chemical fertilizers need to be provided resulting in a massive saving for the project. In addition to this, the project also uses no herbicides or pesticides as the aboveground parts of the plants never gets wet as all the water is delivered straight to the root zones meaning that the plants are far less water stressed or subject to fungal attacks. The concept is also built on a no-till approach meaning that no equipment is used which prevents soil compaction. All planting and harvesting is done manually. All these savings contribute to the fact that the cost of producing 1 ton of animal feed is significantly lower than commercial feeds.

The Tses IBS project is just one example of a targeted investment made by the HSF to build localized and sustainable productive capacities using appropriate technologies which ultimately helps poor communities to build future wealth from local underutilized resources and through this enable them to break their dependence on foreign aid and development assistance. What is even more impressive is to observe how the community’s attitude towards their own future started changing as they witness how the project establishes itself and how their seemingly unproductive environment can become productive.