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Living on the land : change in forest cover in north-central Namibia 1943-1996

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Living on the land : change in forest cover in north-central Namibia 1943-1996


The objective of the present study was to analyse the change in forest cover in the Owambo area of north-central Namibia, focusing especially on the domestic use of wood in constructions on farms. Aerial photographs from 1996, 1992, 1970 and 1943, and satellite images from 1996, 1992 and 1981, amplified by ground truth data gathered in 1996, were used to monitor and analyse expansion of the settled area and its effects on forest cover in the Ondobe and Eenhana constituencies of the Ohangwena Region. The results indicate that deforestation was caused almost entirely by clearing of land for permanent agriculture. The clay-rich sandy soils on the lower part of uplands were occupied first; whereas the slightly more elevated, but less fertile, sandy sites have been occupied later. It was estimated that a population increase of one person led to about 1 ha of deforestation. The basic layout of the farm and the architecture of a household dwelling have remained about the same throughout the period 1943-1996. The quantity of indigenous wood in constructions of a typical farm represented an over-bark removal of about 45 tons, and the annual fellings for maintenance were .5 tons per capita. The annual consumption of indigenous wood in the whole Owambo area was estimated to be 600,000 tons, which is lower than the sustained yield. The forest cover has changed towards on farm tree cover, and the species composition in the agricultural fields has gradually changed towards trees producing edible fruits. The frequent change of homestead site has been an important factor in creating the characteristic agroforestry landscape of the Owambo Area.


Antti Erkkilä


University of Joensuu








PhD Dissertation: Forestry



Antti Erkkilä, “Living on the land : change in forest cover in north-central Namibia 1943-1996,” Namibia Digital Repository, accessed March 18, 2019,

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