Grass for Namibia

‘This is unbelievably beautiful!’ exclaims one of the Jeep’s passengers on the way from the airport in Windhoek to Okahandja. ‘Everything’s so green!’ But appearances are deceptive – the former savannah is certainly green today, but it’s the green of the acacia shrubs that are overpowering the landscape. The soil below is dried out and depleted.

In Namibia, 32 million hectares of grassland have been affected by bush encroachment, losing valuable pastures for livestock and wild animals. This is more than one third of Namibia’s land area. As a result of bush encroachment, groundwater reserves cannot be completely replenished because the many bushes, particularly the hawthorn acacia (Acacia mellifera) with its widespread, shallow root network, absorb the water quicker than it can penetrate into the ground. Bush therefore prevents rainwater from reaching the underground reservoirs – the ground dries out and becomes desolate. The result is less biodiversity, reduced groundwater recharge and the deterioration of grazing land capacity. In the end, there is no escape – acacia spreads so quickly that it’s impossible to get through, neither with the Jeep nor on foot. The thorns of the acacia rip through everything that dares to confront it. Ugly scars mar the feet and legs of bush workers. The shrubs are mainly felled using an axe. Suitable tools are neither available nor useful in these inaccessible regions.

 

‘Debushing is expensive,’ dismisses one indigenous farmer. ‘It’s like buying your farm all over again!’ Nevertheless, the acacia must go in order to make space for the cultivation of grass, for instance. Grass is Namibia’s primary fodder in stock breeding. And here, at the very latest, is where Creapaper comes in. The Hennef-based company uses grass to produce a raw material to make paper and cardboard for packaging. If grass returned to Namibia, there would be so much of it that it could be used both for cattle feed and even as a raw material for grass paper, for instance. And it just so happens that neighbouring South Africa has the largest paper production on the continent.

 

The tour group of European business representatives is visiting the country at the invitation of the GIZ German Society for International Cooperation. With Professor Heck from the ifas Institute for Applied Material Flow Management in Birkenfeld as guide, the tour takes the interested entrepreneurs from Windhoek through Okahandja, Otjiwarongo and Ohorongo to Omalanga Lodge on the fringe of Etosha National Park. According to the plans of ifas, this region will host a Biomass Industrial Park (BIP).

The establishment of this BIP has ambitious objectives:
• Technological advancement in the mobilisation of biomass,
• Synergy effects between different production processes,
• Economies of scale resulting in lower costs per unit,
• Centralisation and its knock-on effect
• Product diversification.

Sounds pretty academic. Professor Heck from ifas describes it more pragmatically. ‘Where else does the opportunity exist to do something that is both economically and ecologically worthwhile whilst simultaneously bringing hope and a future to so many people?’

 

When ifas appealed for partners for the project, Creapaper didn’t need to be asked twice. ‘We are bringing our idea of grass paper to Africa,’ states Founder and CEO Uwe D’Agnone, ‘and in doing so, we help the local people – we create jobs, secure incomes, make the soil fertile again – this is social impact at its very best.’

 

The group of business representatives finish the educational trip with a workshop. A flip chart reads, ‘What will be different when we are finished:

• Restoration of agricultural land
• Secure groundwater recharge
• (Re)development of biodiversity
• Creation of jobs in farming areas
• Improvement of self-sufficiency
• Local value creation of existing resources
• Creation of biomass: fuels, construction materials, animal fodder – and raw material for grass paper

 

The days were long and tiring. ‘To tell the truth, I imagined a slightly more relaxed trip,’ smiles D’Agnone. Everyone is on first-name terms. It feels as if they’ve all known each other for a long time. In just a handful of days, strangers have become friends.

 

It’s all set to start in a few weeks. In an area the size of a football pitch, farmers are clearing the acacia to make room for indigenous grass seed. Once it’s at the right length, Creapaper will test it to see which types of grass paper and packaging it can be used to make. Uwe D’Agnone is excited. ‘Namibia is a magnificent country and the locals are pleased and proud to be part of this project. I can hardly wait to come back again!’

Source: Dr. Rainer Schrägle


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