The SKEP Coordination Unit is delighted to announce that Igshaan Samuels, a rangeland ecologist at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), was awarded a PhD for his dissertation entitled ‘Pastoral mobility in a variable and spatially constrained South African environment’ from the University of Cape Town (UCT).
Igshaan joined the ARC in 2005 on the Professional Development Programme where he completed his Master Degree (cum laude) in 2006 at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Since being appointed as a researcher in 2008, he has been actively conducting research on communal farming systems in the arid zones of South Africa where he works closely with local communities on issues of rangeland use and management, assessing land use impacts on the environment and land and wetland rehabilitation.
Samuels’s PhD study, focused on herd mobility in Namaqualand, reveals the adaptive capacity of local herders to their dynamic socio-ecological environment. The study shows that the extensive and highly mobile livestock farming system in Namaqualand has become spatially constrained mainly due to various government policies dating back from the Dutch rule until democracy in South Africa. It shows that herd mobility, which is widely viewed as ecologically rational in variable ecosystems, has not been promoted in government policies; a problem common to most communal farming systems around the world.
The spatial constraints imposed on the 250 herds in the Leliefontein communal area resulted in herders having to adapt their traditional long-range movements of sometimes over 100s of kilometers by moving over much shorter distance of about 12 km between different grazing sites.
However, due to the variability in resource availability, herders are still able to maintain their traditional grazing patterns which include transhumance, nomadism and outmigration. They continue to access key resource areas such as fallow croplands in lower-lying areas during winter and wetlands during summer when forage and winter become limited. The different grazing patterns of herds observed culminated into an uneven distribution of grazing pressure across space and time, a finding which questions the need for fixed stocking rates as proposed by agricultural policy makers.
The study recommends the need to promote herd mobility in variable ecosystems which will allow livestock to track resource availability, herders to conserve the rangeland by resting certain parts of their grazing area and to meet their socio-economic needs. It further concludes that there is the potential for land reform and conservation to play important roles in mobile farming systems when herds need access to grazing reserves during times of resource scarcity.
This study was funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnerships Fund (CEPF) through the SKEP Coordination Unit.