A healthy and productive rangeland depends on well-functioning ecosystem services such as effective cycling of water and nutrients. After rangeland has degraded, bushes may encroach in nature’s attempt to restore water and nutrient cycling. When bush encroachment is addressed by debushing, with harvested bush wood sold off the land, then nutrient cycling is disrupted and soil fertility is likely to decline. Former debushing activities on different parts of farms of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in central Namibia provided the opportunity to assess the influence of debushing on overall fertility of the soil.
Sites were selected on the farm representing nine examples of each of uncleared, partially cleared and totally cleared land. The debushing had taken place at different times, varying between two and 13 years previously. Soil was collected from each of these 27 sites and subjected to bioassay by growing barley (Hordeum vulgare) and Moringa oleifera. Seedling emergence and height at five weeks for both species were greatest in uncleared soil and lowest in totally cleared soil, indicating the loss of soil fertility as debushing intensifies.
There was no evidence of restoration of soil fertility, even 13 years after debushing. Nutritious grass is unlikely to grow well after debushing, and more bush is likely to regrow in nature’s attempt at restoring fertility over the long term. If faster restoration is sought, then the full spectrum of minerals removed in harvested wood should be replaced on the land.