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COMMUNAL FARMING IN ARID REGIONS

 

A.O. de Lange*

Fort Hare University

 

FOOD SECURITY

The most important challenge facing South Africa is providing food security for its total population. The approximate self-sufficiency indices (production / consumption *100) for the major agricultural products for the period 1985 to 1989 were sunflower oil 87, beef 90, mutton 93, pork, poultry, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, potatoes 100, wheat 115, maize 121, deciduous and subtropical fruit 152, sugar 163 and citrus 254.

This apparent food self-sufficiency is misleading since roughly 15 % of the population suffer from malnutrition. The food security equation consists of a supply side and an entitlement side. On the supply side, we have commercial agriculture, international trade and stockpiles. The entitlement side is made up of own income earned, production for own consumption, and social transfers (pensions, remittances, charity etc.). The two sides of the equation are linked by markets and policy (S. Jones, Oxford Food Studies Group, seminar held by the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Fort Hare).

In a highly industrialised society, the primary source of entitlement is own income earned. At the opposite end of the scale, in an agrarian society, entitlement is mainly provided by means of own production. Although South Africa is characterised as an industrial society, a very large proportion of the rural population can really be classified as pre-industrial.

Policy on agricultural resource use should therefore take far greater cognisance of the "own production" side of food security. The implication is that land (and water) will not exclusively be used for commercial agriculture,

but also to provide a socio-economic "safety net" for many of the poor. In practical terms, this means farmer support for small-scale producers, and irrigation schemes for foodplots rather than commercial production.

 

THE DUAL AGRICULTURE OF SOUTH AFRICA

Agriculture in South Africa is practised on 84 million ha of private farms (almost exclusively white owned), called the commercial sector; and on 16 million ha of communal land. Arable potential is low by world standards. Less than 3 % can be considered as high potential agricultural land, while a further 12 % is also classified as arable. The division between arable and non-arable land is roughly the same for the commercial and communal sectors. For all practical purposes all the available agricultural land is currently being used for crop and livestock production.

With the exception of Natal and the Lowveld, where some scope exists for the expansion of crop production on good soil, increased output will have to come from increased inputs or new technologies. The livestock industry is fortunate in the sense that the new technologies in this sector can be applied to even very small production units. Practices such as artificial insemination, castration, dehorning, and tick and parasite control are essentially scale neutral. Even feedlotting becomes feasible on a very small scale (one or more animals) with the PRAM system currently available (protein roughage additive mineral supplement) in which whole maize and the PRAM concentrate are both fed ad lib. but separately (Van Niekerk 1989). The PRAM system is ideally suited to the small operator since no roughage, milling or mixing is required.

 

THE COMMUNAL SECTOR

The commercial sector takes it for granted that the objective of farming is to generate income through the marketing of produce. This is not true of the communal sector. Neither is it correct to call it subsistence farming. The communal sector supports a rural population which are not primarily agriculturists because of population density, low rainfall, limited arable soil, and lack of interest (there is no community in the world where everybody would like to be a farmer). Typical demographic data for rural households in Ciskei, for example, are that 40 % are headed by women (mostly widows); only one-third have a resident male in the 25 to 55 year group; 88 % of the average household income comes from a combination of salaries and wages (42 %), remittances (29 %) and pensions (17 %). All other income (self-employed, trade, agriculture etc.) contributed only 12 % on average (Fabricius & McWilliams, 1991). Yet, in spite of the insignificant average contribution to rural household income, agricultural resources still represent the most valuable on site natural resource. According to ARDRI surveys the percentages of households with access to this resource and average holdings are as follows: arable land (44 %; 2,8 ha), home gardens (50 %), cattle (31 %; 5 ha), sheep 25 %; 17 ha), goats (59 %; 12 ha), poultry (73 %; 11 ha), pigs (46 %; 2 ha). Further analysis of the ARDRI data showed that a "true" farmer class existed, which raised nearly all the cattle, half the sheep and one-third of the summer crop. They comprise 22 % of households and surprisingly it was found that number of species owned (not number of animals) was a good indicator of who the members of this group are (Williams et al. 1989). In KwaZulu 20 % of the livestock owners own 70 % of the total herd; in Transkei this 20 % own 78 % of the herd; and in Bophuthatswana they own 68 % of the herd (May & T'Jonck 1990).

From the surveys done it is clear that to regard rural people in South Africa as subsistence farmers is totally wrong. The rural population consists mainly of commuters, the aged and the unemployed, civil servants, traders and other business people, all of whom mayor may not be part-time farmers. The rural areas Currently serve the important function of cushioning the effect of social disruption caused by urbanisation. Peasant agriculture seeks to reduce dependence on bought food and to supplement off-farm sources of income.

 

LIVESTOCK IN THE COMMUNAL SECTOR

An ARDRI study of the KwaZulu cattle industry during 1982/83 clearly illustrates the fact that cattle are not kept as a production enterprise per se but mainly for local consumption. In response to the question: "If you have cattle, why do you keep them?" domestic uses (milk, ceremonial, draft, meat consumption) was cited eight times as often as "for cash sales" (Tapson & Rose 1984). The domestic uses benefit not only the owner, but the community as a whole.

For this reason any intervention planned must take cognisance of the impact on the total community, including non-owners of livestock. May and T'Jonck (op cit.) found that of the animals slaughtered in Bophuthatswana in 1989, 68 % of the cattle, 84 % of the sheep and 66 % of the goats were used for social needs.

 

SUSTAINABLE USE OF GRAZING

In this day of environmental awareness there should also be an awareness of the fact that natural grazing is our most valuable natural resource, since ruminants convert it into food and other products for human consumption. Sustainable use of this valuable resource is absolutely essential for the wellbeing of the rural population. However, efforts to promote sustainable use by emphasising soil conservation and overstocking have very little emotional appeal. The needs of livestock and benefits to the total community should be the overriding consideration when the management of communal grazing is planned. Terminology such as "stock reduction" and "user charges" will not motivate conservation management. Prinsloo (DBSA, personal communication) has suggested that these terms undermine the notion of "ownership" of the resource, and that the concept of ownership should be the directing force behind any intervention. Linked to this concept is recognising the fact that access control is the major issue and not rotational grazing.

The major problem facing livestock owners using communal grazing is the lack of clearly defined rights and obligations for users. This leads to overexploitation of the resource base (often by nonresidents living in major urban centres) and inadequate maintenance of the infrastructure (such as windmills and fences). As a result, low conception rates and high mortality rates have become characteristic of communal livestock systems. The institutional arrangements required to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable use of the common agricultural resource base will require a lot of supportive human sciences research into aspects such as the perceptions of individual members of the community of his or her rights and obligations, the motives and needs underlying current behaviour patterns, the concept of human-scale development as opposed to "growth with trickle down" theory of development, etc., before the results of agricultural research will have much impact.

Setting up a marketing organisation is often seen as a solution to the problem of overstocking. The uninformed observer looking at the number of livestock on the land may cry out "overgrazing" and think in terms of marketing the "surplus". In reality the individual farmer has no surplus animals to sell. What is really needed is research programmes to identify the minimum interventions (affordable technology) which would create saleable surpluses within the constraints imposed by a communal system. Increased reproduction rates rather than improved production should be the goal of programmes to increase the benefits to be derived from livestock ownership in the communal sector. This is more likely to develop a commercial orientation among small-scale farmers.

 

THE SCIENCE OF THE FREE-GRAZING RUMINANT

A tremendous amount of research has been done on the demand side of ruminant species. Tables of nutrient requirements of various categories of animals exist (e.g. lactating ewes, growing weaners, dry cows, etc.). Very little  information is available on the supply side of the free-grazing ruminant in terms of the availability (and actual intake) of protein, energy and minerals over time. Even less is known of the minimum supplementation required to achieve "modest" objectives such as specified conception and weaning rates. Past research deals almost exclusively with the requirements for high levels of production. This is a very important field of research for the communal farmer since whereas the commercial producer is primarily interested in cash sales, his/her objectives are more directed towards social needs, security and investment.

Other research required to promote sustainable subsistence-type land use revolves around the study of production system interactions: biological, managerial and financial. Especially important is the integration of livestock production with the use of arable land with a view to improving the fodder flow programme for livestock; and more comprehensive characterisation of indigenous livestock breeds.

Supplementation of grazing animals is critical to successful livestock production under South African conditions. Cattle gain mass for 4 to 6 months of the summer and lose 20 to 30 % of their maximum summer mass during the dry winter months. Much research has been done over the years on the best way of supplementing the diet of the grazing animal. Van Niekerk (1989) summarised the concepts which have emerged, and points out that a neglected field of research is the use of ionophores on natural grazing.

 

BREED CHARACTERISATION

Indigenous breeds should be the cornerstone of sustainable pastoralism at low management input levels in semi-arid regions. Comprehensive breed characterisation is essential because choice of breed and management regime are so closely interlinked. This is one of the neglected areas of research in commercial agriculture. There was a time when researchers tended to avoid breed comparisons, other than as a component of crossbreeding research or the creation of synthetic breeds. Also, efforts to improve livestock production in the developing areas often consisted of "upgrading" indigenous breeds or replacing them by "improved" European breeds.

The poor image of the indigenous breeds seems to have had two causes: slow growth rate because of low management inputs and the subconscious association of breed purity with a specific colour pattern. The multi-coloured Nguni breed was perceived to be "impure" compared with the uniformly coloured breeds from Europe. Dr Scholtz of the Irene Animal Production Institute near Pretoria has given the lie to the supposed inferior qualities of the Nguni. It has been proved beyond any doubt that the Nguni is the most fertile breed in Southern Africa. Although growth rate is rather low, it is on a par with the Brahman and Afrikaner; feed conversion rate in the feedlot is better than for these two breeds and on a par with most of the British and European breeds; and productivity if measured as kg of calf weaned per mass of cow mated is in the top bracket with Bonsmara, Angus and Simmentaler (Scholtz 1988).

In addition, the Nguni is adapted to harsh environments, tick resistant, calves easily, reaches puberty early, has a long life expectancy and a moderate milk production. Furthermore, the advantages of using a small dam line on communal grazing under arid to semi-arid conditions are obvious. The same number of animals induce far less pressure on grazing than large-framed animals and are cheaper to supplement.

At the next higher level of management input, consideration should be given to developing two-breed synthetics for specific regions. Two-breed synthetics have proved to be a success story in the South African live-stock industry (Bonsmara, Dorper, D6hne Merino, Dormer, Afrino) since they combine local adaptedness with relatively high production.

A common feature of these breeds is the fact that development was initiated by public institutions and expansion of numbers done in conjunction with farmer co-operators. The great diversity of environments and production systems in southern Africa make it most likely that the development of more artificial breeds will be worthwhile pursuing, especially if breeds from all over the continent are screened for this purpose.

At a more complex level of management, any beef production system producing large offspring from small cows will generally be more efficient than a system producing small offspring from small cows, or large offspring from large cows. The reasons for the greater efficiency are the gain in feed efficiency caused by the lower maintenance requirements of the small-cow breed, as well as fast growth rate induced in the calf by the use of a large-bull breed. Indigenous breeds such as the Nguni are ideally suited for the role of dam line. Clearly there is a great market potential for even the small farmer to  sell either female breeding stock to commercial farmers or to cross his Nguni cows with large bulls and then "feedlot" the offspring himself with the aid of the PRAM system.

Fears that crossing a small cow, such as the Nguni, with a large bull may lead to excessive calving difficulties seem to be unfounded. Irene Animal Production Institute inseminated 17 Nguni cows with semen from a Simmentaler bull which had been scrapped from commercial use because of the high frequency of calving difficulties resulting from using his semen. All 17 calves were born with no difficulty at all. The same Institute crossed a Charolais bull with Nguni cows and obtained 23 calves, again with no calving difficulties at all. The crossbred offspring were tested for growth rate in the feedlot and proved to have a growth rate in between the two parent breeds, but closer to the Charolais (1 121 vs. 1 652 vs. 1 765 g/day respectively). Feed conversion rate was actually slightly better than those of both parents: 6,36 vs. 7,46 for the Nguni and 6,58 for the Charolais (Scholtz, personal communication).

The commercial exploitation of sexual dimorphism (separate dam lines and sire lines) could very well benefit from better characterisation of a wider range of breeds found on the continent.

 

SYSTEMS RESEARCH

Success in any agricultural production system will depend on the degree of harmony between the four components of the system, namely people, animals, crops and the environment (institutional, economic and biological). There is no single "best” system. The best system is the best compromise between human needs and motives, the needs of animals and plants, and the institutional and natural environments. This principle is equally valid for the commercial sector and the communal sector.

Researchers generally favour the "process up" approach to research, where each researcher studies a part of the system according to his/her interest and the results are then combined to create a picture. At best it is a slow and often inefficient approach to problem-solving. At worst the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fail to produce a meaningful picture. Breen (1991) pleads for a "procedure down" approach, starting with an analysis of the problem.

"In this way the problem rather than the system is analyzed and the avenues and actions with the greatest probability of successfully resolving the problem are identified and addressed."

This approach also has the distinct advantage that it will direct attention to, and define precisely, the primary research needs. The process up approach is compatible with the comfort zone of the individual researcher. The procedure down approach requires an interdisciplinary team which can put greater stress on the researcher.

The essence of the Farms Systems Research and Extension (FSRE) approach is that it responds to the farmer's felt needs, and short-circuits the traditional flow of information from researcher to extension to farmer by making him an active research partner. In spite of the sound theoretical basis of FSRE, in practice there has been a general lack of success stories. Low (1993) reviews some of the reasons. Suffice it to say that this was usually due to either superficial interaction between researcher and farmer, poor integration of field extension officers, or input-supply problems. On the other hand FSRE has led to a general acknowledgement that resource-poor farmers are rational and follow very efficient survival strategies, integrating an array of on-farm and off-arm resources. Tripp (1992) reviewed the various development approaches followed over the last few decades, and reaches the conclusion that FSRE is still the most balanced approach to agricultural development.

Major shifts have taken place in FSRE thinking over the past 3 decades (Norman 1993) with the focus moving from a specific enterprise to the whole farm, to natural resources, and to a livelihood focus (including off-farm activities). Another major paradigm shift has been to recognise the crucial importance of involving the farmers in problem identification. The early work was often characterised by formal surveys (interpreted by the researcher) as a tool for problem identification. The rapid rural appraisal (RRA) technique supplemented by participatory rural appraisal (PRA) is the currently favoured approach. Norman (op cit.) states that "I am personally becoming increasingly convinced that these more informal techniques involving greater farmer participation, and hence greater ownership, hold the key not only in maximising the return from increasingly limited research resources but also in more effectively learning from farmers' intimate knowledge of their own environments in analysing the causes of problems and articulating relevant solutions".

 

INTELLIGENT BORROWING

Technology borrowing has been the cornerstone of rapid economic development in many Asian countries. In our society, however, there is not the same emphasis on borrowing technology. There seems to be psychological pressure to do your own research and develop local technology. But in highly advanced countries such as the Netherlands, it has been found that the technologies used by the average farmer is 50 % imported.

A strong case could be made, especially in the field of systems research, to lean heavily on technology borrowing. Some researchers should apply themselves fulltime to this activity, with special regard to the technologies developed in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Screening research, synthesising 'information, and identifying opportunities to apply existing information is in many ways intellectually more demanding than conducting your own (neatly designed) trials.

 

CONCLUDING REMARK

Development is a dynamic process and the degree of development of a society is dependent on an understanding of and ability to control the environment (natural, economic, and institutional). The primary function of research is to create this understanding. The challenge facing agricultural researchers in southern Africa is to generate this understanding in an environment where all three components are extremely variable.

* Paper read at a forum on the ecology of arid regions Middelburg CP 1993-09-28

 

REFERENCES

BREEN, C. 1991. Research priorities of rural areas in the eastern seaboard region. ARDRI Workshop, University of Fort Hare, 19 November 1991.

FABRICIUS, M.P. & McWILLIAMS, I.A. 1991. Population development survey of five magisterial districts in the Republic of Ciskei. Research Report 42. Institute for Planning Research, University of Port Elizabeth.

LOW, A. 1993. Experiences with implementing FSRE programmes: constraints, weak links and lessons for improving the welfare of resource poor farm households in southern Africa. Invited keynote address at Southern African Farming Systems Research-Extension Conference, Ezulweni, Swaziland, 1-3 June 1993.

MAY,J. & T'JONCK, K.1990. Livestock ranching and the restructuring of agriculture in South Africa's "homelands". Proceedings of the Interconference Symposium of the International Association of Agricultural Economists, Swakopmund, Namibia, 24-27 July 1990.

NORMAN, D. 1993. The farming systems perspective: The key to building sustainable agriculture in Southern Africa. Invited keynote address at Southern African Farming Systems Research-Extension Conference, Ezulweni, Swaziland 1-3 June 1993.

SCHOLTZ, M.M. 1988. Selection possibilities of hardy beef breeds in Africa: the Nguni example. Proceedings o/the 3rd World Congress on sheep and beef cattle breeding, Vol. 2, Paris, 1988.

TAPSON, D.R. & ROSE, C.J.1984. An investigation into the KwaZulu  cattle industry. ARDRI report 2/84, December 1984.

TRIPP, R. 1992. Expectations and realities on on-farm research. Invited paper presented at CIMMYT sponsored workshop on Impacts of On-Farm Research, Harare, Zimbabwe, 23-26 June 1992.

VAN NlEKERK, B.D.H. 1989. Modem developments in the feeding of ruminants. SASAP Developing Areas Branch Annual Symposium, Medunsa, 18-20 October 1989.

WILLIAMS, W., ROSE, C.J., ECKERT, J.B. & TAPSON, D.R. 1989

Stratification of rural populations: Human, economic and material characteristics as an aid in identifying recommendation domains. In: Development: the human challenge. Development Society of Southern Africa.

 

Published

Karoo Agric, Vol. 6, No 1, 1994 (12-16)