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Impacts of cutting of natural forests in the Etayi Constituency in the Omusati Region, Northern Namibia
Shivolo, Lahya Magano Namulongelo
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Forests are being depleted and the land becoming bare, with little to no vegetation in the Etayi constituency and in Namibia at large. People rely on the resources of forests for different reasons. Areas that had trees years back have turned into a desert-like environment due to deforestation. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact that the cutting of natural forests has had in the Etayi constituency in the Omusati Region, Namibia. This examination has become necessary because forests in the Omusati region have undergone a rapid depletion over the past years. However, it should be noted that these environmentally degrading activities have contributed to the household income in the form of employment to the indigenous people. Forests has an important role to play in terms of the conservation of biodiversity. They also harbour unique and endemic species that are mainly adapted to extreme ecological conditions. They provide vital benefit to the ecosystem, such as wood for fuel, medicine, fodder for animals and tradable goods, like furniture. Furthermore, forests provide the soil with nutrients and reduce wind velocity, thus controlling wind erosion and the retardation of water and moisture depletion. With increasingly uncertain climatic conditions and their related impact across the continent at large, there is a need for new approaches towards the management of indigenous forests that support and promote land-users’ resilience to climatic variability and change. The role of forests in climate change mitigation is important as it sustains the ecosystem. The maintenance of ecological systems has been acknowledged as one of the most important facets of sustainable development. Subsequently, the involvement of several international and local policies and regulations has been established to ensure that natural resources, such as forests, are sustainably utilised. In rural areas/villages, overdependence on wood for fuel has been identified as one of the biggest threats to the forests. This has led to environmental degradation that includes, among others, deforestation, desertification, the extinction of species and soil erosion. Based on the many issues caused by the over-reliance on wood for fuel, this research sought to investigate the impact of the over-exploitation of natural forests in the environment. Ninety-seven (97) respondents, comprising of 51 females and 46 males, were used in this study. Four (4) villages in the Etayi Constituency were chosen for the study. The study employed a qualitative and quantitative approach, which included the following methods of data collection: questionnaires, observation and interviews with respondents in the Etayi community. A quantitative method enabled the researcher to ask questions such as how many and how often? It helped the researcher further to plot the responses into graphs and diagrams. Government representatives from the Constituency Council and Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and Traditional Authorities in the four villages were interviewed. The study identified key threats to the forests as a result of high fuelwood collection. These threats include high levels of poverty, overdependence on the forests, a lack of understanding about the importance of forests for the environment, little or a lack of information regarding other alternative sources of energy and the lack of coordination in the management of fuelwood resources. Apart from fuelwood being used as a source of energy for cooking and lighting, the exploitation of local fuelwood has become commercialised to supplement household income. Since there is a lack of coordination in the management of natural resources, fuelwood resources are not being managed at all. A main argument identified by this study is that forest management must be a combined approach by all stakeholders. The roles of traditional leaders in forest management should be made public. The lack of an awareness campaign on the importance of forests, a lack of management coordination as well as poverty, makes it difficult for the forests policies to be implemented and for the traditional authorities to manage the forests efficiently. The study recommends that educational programmes, proper coordination between key stakeholders and awareness campaigns regarding the environmental importance of forests to residents would alleviate deforestation and over-exploitation of forests resources. Additionally, an emphasis on the relationship between traditional and local governance in the management of forests as sources of fuelwood and the physical environment should receive attention.