NamTip: Understanding and Managing Desertification Tipping Points – A Namibian Perspective

The NamTip research project investigates how ecological and social factors influence desertification in arid regions. The aim is to identify so-called tipping points and the associated consequences for humans and the environment at an early stage. Using the Namibian savanna as an example, desertification processes that can lead to irreversible shifts of the savanna ecosystem are analysed and suitable measures are identified to effectively counter desertification.

Background

As a consequence of global change, difficult to reverse changes in the ecosystem are increasingly occurring in arid regions, which are also referred to as “tipping point phenomena”. Changing environmental conditions, especially extreme climatic events such as droughts in combination with increasing land-use pressure can trigger desertification processes that lead to regime shifts with often serious consequences for humans and the environment. Savanna ecosystems in Namibia, which are among the driest regions on earth, are an example of this: Here, inappropriate rangeland  management can cause reduced soil-water storage capacity, biodiversity losses and ultimately desertification. This process is not always slow. If tipping points are reached, the changes described can lead to serious changes in the ecosystem in the shortest time. Due to the close interaction between ecosystems and society as a result of different forms of use, ecological tipping points are typically linked to socio-economic tipping points (e.g. change in lifestyle and income strategy). Therefore, if ecological tipping points are identified at an early stage, abrupt and usually difficult to reverse processes could be prevented. An integrated, social-ecological analysis and evaluation of such phenomena is still lacking for arid regions. However, this is a prerequisite for the development of sustainable management strategies.

The research project NamTip aims to contribute to a better understanding of social-ecological structures and processes when desertification tipping points occur. Namibia's Waterberg region has been selected as a research area. It is characterised by a variety of land uses – with communal and private rangeland, communal protected areas and a national park – as well as by a spatially strongly varying degree of desertification.

Research approach

The project team investigates ecological and social driving forces and consequences of desertification tipping points. Simultaneously, it will be explored how the achievement of tipping points can be better predicted by suitable early warning signals. On this basis, options for sustainable rangeland management will be identified with the aim of preventing desertification and maintain biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The social--ecological systems (SES) concept is used as a research framework and for the integrative analysis of socio-ecological dynamics and feedback effects of tipping point phenomena. The research  is transdisciplinary; relevant stakeholders are involved in the research process at an early stage.
In this research project, ISOE is responsible for the sub-project “Social-Ecological Processes and Farmer Knowledge”. The focus here is on the analysis of the perception of desertification processes by local actors and their local knowledge of desertification and related land use practices. The analysis is based on semi-structured interviews with local land users and focus groups. Based on these results, a better understanding of farmers’ decision-making behaviour is achieved and socio-economic driving forces and the effects of desertification can be more precisely determined. In close cooperation with the project partners, an integrated evaluation and modelling of the socio-ecological interactions of desertification processes will be carried out. On this basis, strategies for sustainable rangeland management will be developed. The results should also contribute to the early identification of desertification tipping points and to the development of measures and strategies for the avoidance of desertification. In order to ensure that the research results are put into practice, capacity development is continuously pursued together with Namibian partners in practice and knowledge transfer is designed to be target group-oriented.

Project partners

  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
  • Universität zu Köln
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung GmbH (UFZ)
  • University of Namibia (UNAM)
  • Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST)
  • EduVentures (EduV)
  • Agri-Ecological Services (AGRA)

Funding

The project “NamTip: Understanding and Managing Desertification Tipping Points – A Namibian Perspective” is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the funding measure “Tipping points, dynamics and interactions of social and ecological systems (BioTip)” under the framework programme Research for Sustainable Development (FONA)

Publications

Bischofberger, Jenny/Evelyne Gab/Stefan Liehr (2018): Who is interested and how will they be involved? A stakeholder analysis with respect to desertification tipping points in dryland social-ecological systems. ISOE-Materialien Soziale Ökologie, 50. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

Duration

2019/04 – 2022/02