Understanding and Managing Desertification Tipping Points in Dryland Social-Ecological Systems – A Namibian Perspective

Photo: R. Toth

Drylands are well-known for regime shifts, where small shifts in human pressures or environmental conditions bring about abrupt changes towards alternative states. One major type of regime shifts in drylands is known as desertification. It typically involves a switch to predominantly bare soil conditions when losing perennial grasses.

Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa, representative for many semi-arid regions in the world that face problems of scarce natural resources, infertile land, extreme climate events such as droughts, population growth and urbanization processes. The total of these factors makes Namibia an ideal study area for understanding desertification tipping points (DTPs), and for identifying appropriate management and policy measures to prevent them.

The NamTip project strives for a better understanding of desertification tipping points. We will focus on the Greater Waterberg Landscape approx. 250 km north of Windhoek as joint study area, which combines a range of different land-use types (communal and freehold farmlands, communal conservancies and a national park) in close vicinity of each other. The NamTip project has two main objectives: (I) to understand ecological and social drivers for DTPs, and (II) to explore and communicate management options in the face of DTPs.

Within POLISES, we are leading the subproject on scenario development and modelling of management options. The subproject will combine both empirical field work as well as modelling experiments and employ a range of different methods, such as serious games, farmer interviews, scenario development and agent-based modelling. The main goals of the subproject are:

  1. Development of future land use scenarios under different social and environmental conditions.
  2. Analysis of decision-making strategies of farmers in the face of tipping points.
  3. Model-based exploration of tipping point dynamics & management options and development of early-warning indicators.