The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Namibia's big birds

A Lutheran ostrich project hatches a new agriculture in an African desert

A lizard crawls up the wall of the closet Daniel Geiseb calls home. "He is my friend," Geiseb says with a shy grin. "I have no family here." Almost no one has family here, except the lizard. Bronzed by the merciless sun, he blends perfectly into this rock garden in the shadow of the Erongo Mountains.

As they say in Namibia, "It looks like a good drying day." It hasn't rained for six months on Weinbrenner's Hof, this rock-strewn plain northwest of Usakos that is punctuated only by 10-foot-tall ant hills.

More than two years ago Geiseb and his partner, Helmut Naruseb, came here to try to make this land yield more than anorexic antelope and thorn bushes. They are the vanguard of a new agriculture--ostrich breeding--being birthed in this country by their church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia. The effort is a response to an early 1990s drought that decimated local goat herds.

The church asked members of the scattered community if they were willing to change the way they farm. Most chose to continue with goats. But a group of farmers here at Weinbrenner's Hof and another group a few miles north at Okombahe formed cooperatives and accepted the church's offer of eight free ostriches.
Ostriches, which are native to Namibia, thrive in the hot, dry conditions. Unlike goats, they don't overgraze and contribute to the desertification of this fragile land. They also are worth as much as 30 to 40 goats at market.

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