Last update: August 16, 2011 08:22:13 AM E-mail Print

 

SUSTAINABLE COMMERCIAL STOCK FARMING IN THE ARID KAROO
OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

M Vorster
Deputy Director
Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute
Private Bag X529
MIDDELBURG 5900

 

The Arid Karoo constitutes the central, north-western and south-western parts of the Karoo and is mainly utilised for extensive small stock production (mainly mutton, wool and mohair). Commercial stock farming in these areas began with the establishment of the mining industry and was accompanied by industrial development during the 1880's. Before this time, subsistence trek stock farming was practised by the farmers.

Although the gross geographical agricultural product from the Arid Karoo is not substantial in relation to that of the RSA, self-governing and TBVC states, this area is an important contributor of mutton and goats meat to the national meat supply. As a result of the export of wool and mohair, it is also an important earner of foreign exchange. In respect of the socio-economic justification for stock farming in these areas, it should be mentioned that the majority of the population in the Arid Karoo is directly or indirectly dependent on jobs created and money generated by the agricultural sector.

As a result of economical and climatological reasons as well as of advances in technology, farmers have implemented certain practices which have affected the small stock industry and the environment detrimentally. In this respect, the creation of maladapted farming systems (e.g. farming with maladapted genotypes, semi-intensive and maladapted stock production systems) are of special significance. General overstocking of the veld has also resulted in the gradual reduction of the grazing capacity over time. Financial aid by the government has furthermore created a false sense of security.

At present, as a result of lower grazing capacities, lower product income, higher input costs and interest rates, a situation has developed where so-called uneconomical farming units has become a serious problem. Currently about two-thirds of the farmers in the Arid Karoo have a negative nett income and if they do not receive any financial aid, they will soon be facing bankruptcy. This will eventually lead to a further depopulation of farmers in the rural areas, which in turn will result in major socio-economic problems.

From the above. it is clear that sustainable stock farming in the Arid Karoo in the short term should aim at ways and means to help the stock farmer to bridge the present financial dilemma. In the long term, however, more robust farming systems and techniques which are in accordance with the erratic climatic conditions associated with these arid regions, should be propagated (e.g. low input sustainable agriculture (LISA).

The financial dilemma of the farmer is of such a nature and extent that existing no agro-technical ways and means will ensure survival of the average farmer. Financial assistance by the government (e.g. subsidising product income and interest rates) and/or an increase in product income appears to be the only solution to the present problem. To achieve the long term goals, appropriate research programmes could make a significant contribution. The following alternatives are currently under consideration:

  1. Farming systems and techniques, taking risk management into consideration, should be explored, quantified and propagated.

  2. Better adapted animals to arid environments should be developed and implemented.

  3. Existing grazing capacity norms should be revised and techniques developed for the accurate determination grazing capacity at farm level. In addition, the advantages of lower stocking rates should be demonstrated and propagated vigorously.

  4. Strategies for the control/eradication of invader/problem plants and weeds should be developed and implemented.

  5. Existing inexpensive strategies to build up reserves in an attempt to soften the impact of seasonal and periodic droughts (e.g. rehabilitation of bare patches and establishing drought fodder crops) must be exploited and propagated.

  6. Possible insurance policies against droughts should be duly considered.

  7. At present, the relatively low income realised by primary products (e.g. wool, mutton, meat and mohair) stresses the importance of exploiting the concept of added value to these products.

  8. A socio-economic strategy to assist uneconomical farmers leaving the industry, is needed urgently.

In conclusion, it is apparent that a concerted effort the farming community, the Department of Agriculture and other institutions involved (universities, Agriculture Research Council, breeding societies, marketing boards, municipality councils, etc) is needed urgently to establish ways and means of ensuring economical survival of the agricultural industry, if the rural community in these arid regions is to survive as a whole.

 

 

Published

Arid Zone Ecology Forum 1993