From the 16th to the 21st of September 2012, a learning exchange focused on local ecological and sustainable livestock management for a group of 16 emerging livestock farmers from De Doorns, Sutherland and Leliefontein was facilitated.
These participants embarked on a six day exchange which was hosted by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Agri-Kameelkrans Vereniging, which is a farmer’s association that promotes sustainable agriculture within the Leliefontein Communal Area in the Kamiesberg area, Namaqualand.
The aim of this learning exchange was threefold, the first aim was for the emerging farmers from the three different communities to share knowledge and experience regarding sustainable livestock management; secondly for the farmers to learn and to share experiences on how to assess the condition of the rangelands in their areas; and thirdly for the participants from De Doorns and Sutherland to be exposed to how Namaqualand communal farmers employ herding strategies to manage livestock sustainably without the use of a fenced camp system.
The exchange took place in three of the nine SKEP priority areas, namely the Bokkeveld-Hantam-Roggeveld, the Central Breede River Valley and the Namaqualand Uplands. These areas represent an interface between Succulent Karoo and Renosterveld vegetation which are under pressure from livestock grazing, and irrigated agriculture in the Central Breede River Valley.
The livestock farmers of the Leliefontein Communal Area are descendents of the Nama people who made use of a transhumance to seek grazing in the Namaqualand. Emerging farmers from Sutherland and De Doorns have been farming on municipal commonages for a relatively short period of time, but have been exposed to ‘modern’ commercial livestock farming practices. It was against the backdrop of these unique contexts that created a winning formula to unearth the sharing of knowledge, the fostering of partnerships and to deepen the understanding of biodiversity.
The itinerary consisted of visits to Kuilenberg, a land reform farm in Sutherland. The ARC facilitated a workshop on veld condition assessment and management. Traditional stock posts in Tweerivier were visited wherein the participants walked with herdsmen to observe the different herding styles and techniques, involving the Anatolian sheepdog. Here participants were divided into groups and were instructed to identify poisonous, palatable and unpalatable plants and grasses with the guidance of the herdsmen. The participants also engaged in field observation activities and from this they learnt that, the healthier the condition of the vegetation, the healthier the animals and the grazing system as a whole.
For many, a visit to the Kokerboom Forest in Nourivier and the Hantam National Botanical Garden in Nieuwoudtville was a first. A guided trip to the SKEPPIES Leliefontein Wetland Project highlighted the importance of ecosystem services from wetlands and the benefits of biodiversity conservation to communities.
“This has been a totally new experience for me. One gets the feeling that the plants, animals and people all understand each other” said Hendrina Smith, a livestock farmer from Sutherland. “It was amazing to see an open grazing system at play which is in contrast to what we practice in Sutherland. The knowledge and wisdom of the herders is startling.”
Throughout the exchange inputs from the various communities about their farming successes, differences and challenges were shared. This learning exchange highlighted that it is important for farmers to know and understand nature, to have management plans in place and that it can be useful to know and monitor one’s grazing areas .