NamTip: Socio-ecological tipping points of desertification in Namibia in the context of climate change (2nd phase)

In its second main phase, the NamTip research project is using Namibia as an example to investigate in how far climatic, ecological and social factors are accelerating desertification – i.e. land degradation in drylands – and how the restoration of affected rangeland can be advanced. In the Namibian savannah, desertification is characterized by a gradual loss of grass cover and increasing bush encroachment. By developing measures for rangeland management relevant for practice and politics, the project sets an example for the conservation and restoration of savannah ecosystems worldwide.

Research approach

The project team is analyzing the interplay of climatic, ecological and social factors in order to gain a better understanding of desertification tipping points. Based on the work from the first main phase of the project, it is assumed that tipping points of desertification are not purely ecologically determined, but that ecological and social processes are closely linked and both play a role in this context. Therefore, within the research of the second main phase of NamTip there is a focus on a better understanding of the socio-ecological dynamics of tipping points and the conclusion was drawn that these take the form of cascading step-by-step processes. The research project also deals with the question of how degraded rangeland can be restored. The measures developed for sustainable rangeland management are intended to prevent the progression of desertification and thus preserve the livelihoods of the affected farmers. 

The concept of social-ecological systems (SES) serves as a conceptual research framework and is used for the integrative analysis of tipping point dynamics. This research mode is transdisciplinary and ensures that starting from an early stage, relevant stakeholders are continuously included in the research process.

Within the framework of NamTip, ISOE is responsible for the sub-project “Socio-ecological processes and farmers’ knowledge”. Here, the aim is to gain an in-depth understanding of the social dimensions of tipping point dynamics and to attain the conceptualization of measures that enable the restoration of rangeland. To this end, the interfaces between farmers and the savannah they manage as rangeland will be analyzed from a socio-ecological perspective. This approach includes conceptual, empirical and analytical work. Knowledge, management practices and technologies as well as relevant institutions and socio-political conditions are analyzed. The focus is on freehold farmers, i.e. farmers with their own title to the rangeland they manage. Another task in this sub-project is to translate the obtained results into implementation practice.


Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa. With its extensive savannah regions, the country is representative of many arid regions worldwide that are confronted with both the challenges of a rapidly growing population and the effects of climate change. Climate change projections for Namibia predict a rise in temperature well above the global average and an increase in rainfall variability. This means that more frequent and more intense droughts (and heavy rainfall events) can be expected. These factors make Namibia a well-suited study area to understand desertification and identify appropriate measures that can prevent and reverse it.

The research area is located in the Greater Waterberg Landscape. Land tenure is characterized by communal farm areas and privately owned farms. The region is therefore highly suitable for NamTip's comparative approach. Regarding the causes of desertification (effects of climate change in combination with population density and overgrazing), the study area is not only representative of large parts of Namibia, but also of other drylands around the world and the challenges they face.

Research and project partners

  • University of Potsdam (Lead)
  • University of Bonn
  • University of Tübingen
  • University of Cologne
  • Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
  • University of Namibia (UNAM)
  • Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST)

Practice partners 

  • Namibia National Farmers' Union (NNFU)
  • EduVentures (EduV)


The project “NamTip: A Namibian perspective on desertification tipping points in the face of climate change” is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the funding measure “Tipping points, dynamics and interactions of social and ecological systems (GlobalTip)” and is embedded in the framework program Research for Sustainable Development (FONA).


2023/09 – 2025/08