for sustainable development


Sustaining ecosystems in savannahs: using local knowledge for research

Globally, savannahs cover 20 percent of the land surface and offer important livelihoods for people and animals alike. However, the ecosystem in these areas is increasingly under pressure. The example of Namibia shows that wide extends of rangelands are overgrazed, soil conditions are deteriorating, and during dry periods sufficient forage for livestock cannot always be provided. The research project OPTIMASS is investigating prerequisites for sustainable management of savannah ecosystems with the aim to create improved conditions for farming. To this end, ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research has specifically included the knowledge of local farmers.

Savannah in Namibia

With its subproject as part of the international research project OPTIMASS it was ISOE’s aim to contribute to a sustainable resource management in the Namibian savannahs. With this goal in mind, a basic understanding was developed of how ecosystem services are interconnected and how feedbacks between geo-, bio-, and atmosphere in the Namibian savannahs are functioning. Here, local forms of farm management served as key to gain a better understanding of the matter. For that reason, the ISOE team was focusing on the farmers’ knowledge.

Farmers and their families constitute about 70 percent of the Namibian population. As agriculture is their main source of income they are particularly affected by deteriorating soil conditions. At the same time, farmers possess important knowledge: they know about precipitation patterns and the interaction between grasses with soil types, herd sizes, and resting resp. grazing periods. That kind of knowledge is decisive for the development of a management system adapted for savannahs.

Transferable strategies for a sustainable management of resources

Namibia is affected in a particularly strong way by the effects of climate change. Extreme events like droughts are on the rise. Shrub encroachment is also increasingly turning into a problem. The growth of shrubs is becoming denser thus diminishing valuable grasslands in the savannah which are needed for rangelands. All this is putting ecosystems increasingly under pressure. The results of ISOE’s subproject show that the present situation calls for adaptive and flexible approaches which enable a management of rangelands in an anticipatory manner.

An adaption to changing conditions is certainly possible. By connecting local and scientific knowledge, recommendations can be developed with the aim to increase reserve biomass, water storage capacities, the efficiency of water usage and erosion control. Another aim is shrub removal. These solution approaches can be transferred to comparable regions with similar challenges. In this context, the farmers’ knowledge offers important indications for project partners to carry out model-based analyses.

The results of the project were presented in July 2017 in Namibia, amongst others during the Namibian Rangeland Forum (NRF) in Otjiwarongo which was organized by OPTIMASS. The results will contribute to the Namibian National Rangeland Management Policy & Strategy (NRMPS).

For more information on the project please go to



Nicola Schuldt-Baumgart

Nicola Schuldt-Baumgart
Head of Knowledge Communication & Public Relations
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-30

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