Balanced environment and livestock production interests, a key rangeland management approach

Source: Balanced environment and livestock production interests, a key rangeland management approach | Sunday News (Business)

ONE of the emerging important aspects of livestock production in smallholder communal production systems is veld or rangeland management.

One important characteristic of communally managed resources like rangelands in communal areas, is that they always suffer from the tragedy of the common phenomenon where the resource is not cared for appropriately because no one has absolute ownership of the resource.

No one feels obliged to take care of a resource for which they have no singular ownership and control.

However, in relation to livestock production, it must be mentioned that communal rangelands contribute 90 percent of the livestock national herd and their demise has a huge impact on the livestock value chain.

In addition to the effects of the “tragedy of the commons”, communal rangelands also suffer from the consequences of inappropriate extension messaging with regards to rangelands management.

We have discussed before that rangeland or veld management is not an integral part of Government extension messaging even though communal livestock production relies on communal rangelands.

So, in communal areas, veld management is on autopilot with no deliberate technically guided veld management practices that are being promoted by the Government through its extension arm.

Communal farmers have just evolved their grazing land management practices, which are more informed by the need to protect cropping fields as well as protecting available grazing resources to sustain their herds through the dry season period.

Another aspect of communal grazing management, which has been identified by a lot of smallholder communal livestock farmers as impacting negatively on their veld, is compliance with requirements of natural resources governing bodies like the Environmental Management Agency (EMA).

Over the years, EMA has been very protective of the environment including widespread campaigns against veld fires. While this is a very good environmental management approach, it tends to have unintended consequences for the livestock farmer.

The first unintended consequence is the promotion of bush encroachment due to the proliferation of shrubs.

Ordinarily, these shrubs would be controlled by occasional deliberate veld fires and this kept bush encroachment in check.

I have interacted with communities who have pointed out that before veld fires were outlawed, their grazing lands were open and would grow a lot of grasses, keeping the livestock carrying capacity high.

This is more pronounced in rangelands with Kalahari soils like most Matabeleland North districts.

Kalahari soils tend to promote prolific growth of trees and shrubs if left unchecked, which has been the case over the years, woody species tend to colonise the rangelands, completely stifling the growth of grasses and significantly reducing the carrying capacity of the affected areas. Judicious burning of the veld has always been an integral part of grazing land management for many years.

While there are arguments to be made against it, especially as it relates to the destruction of biodiversity, its importance cannot be minimised because of what I have explained above. Judicious burning also controls the tick population and by extension reduces incidences of tick-borne diseases.

Theileriosis is now causing havoc in the country and it may not be too much of a stretch to link that to the restrictions around veld fires. Burning the veld, would naturally destroy the ticks and cut off the life cycle of this troublesome vector.

It would be interesting to observe the results if areas with problems of Theileriosis can be allowed to do controlled burning of the veld over two successive seasons and record the impact on disease incidences.

The point I am putting across is that there is a need to balance environmental conservation national interests with livestock production interests, so that one does not suffer from the negative effects of the excessive protectionist approach.

It would be nice for EMA to allow communities and livestock farmers to do controlled burning of the rangeland to manage both bush encroachment and tick infestation.

Livestock production constitutes a major livelihood source for most communal farmers in Matabeleland and other drier regions of the country, hence it will be ill-advised to push an entirely conservationist and protectionist approach towards the environment, with no regard to the negative repercussions to the livestock farmer.

The need for a balanced approach for the existence of both the environment and the farmer cannot be over-emphasised. Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo.

Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback cell 0772851275