Less than 20% of SA is formally protected and its simply not enough to ensure biodiversity and ecological functioning. Private lands where livestock production takes place makes up a huge part of SA (estimated 70% of our land cover), and is still home to some biodiversity, but the use of indiscriminant lethal predator controls negatively effects this. This project applies non-lethal controls and monitors the economic and ecological effect these tools have compared to traditional lethal controls. If we could get livestock producers in SA to use non-lethal control, biodiversity would increase, so would their production and food security.
This is particularly interesting project because it incorporates economics, socio-economics and ecological factors….and it gets even more exciting.
South Africa used to have millions of wild animals which migrated, and the vegetation evolved from having high impact (teeth and hooves) by millions of animals over a period of a few days, and long resting periods as migrations took place. Over time we have lost most of the wildlife, and replaced it with livestock. However, livestock to usually left in a camp of several 100 ha for weeks to months. The vegetation gets over utilized, as the animals select for the most palatable plants leaving only unpalatable plants, and the plants have no time to recover leaving larger areas of exposed soil leading to erosion and increase rain runoff rather than absorbing into the soil. There is a lack of large clumps of animals as livestock are often spread out. By clumping them into big herds shepherds move them around the farm mimicking migrations. The vegetation gets waves of high impact use, and long resting periods, and the results…..more vegetation production, less top soil loss and more rain absorbed into the ground.
Our Karoo Project:
SHEPHERDING BACK OUR BIODIVERSITY
Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation on Agriculturally Productive Landscapes
Objective: The objective of this programme is to mainstream biodiversity conservation on livestock farms through a return to human shepherding (and new innovative husbandry tools). The development of a wildlife-friendly produce brand, leading to direct payment for ecosystem services, as a tool in conservation and local economic development (LED) will be an integral part of this project. Hereby landscapes will be certified to incorporate biodiversity management standards in its management.
Biodiversity focus: This will be achieved through a focus on the conservation and restoration of the top trophic levels in these ecosystems, as a means to ensuring the entire trophic pyramid is effectively conserved. The conservation will entail all biodiversity patterns and processes.
Context: Commercial agriculture has inextricably changed over the last 50 years in South Africa (and elsewhere). This, together with the preceding two centuries of degradation of biodiversity patterns and processes across the region in Southern Africa, has had a dire impact on our wildlife. Today commercial agriculture, especially in rangeland agriculture, has moved to an extensive system of agriculture as economies of scale, and political and legal imperatives have forced farmers to reduce labour costs and risks, and acquire more and more extensive rangelands. This has had significant impact for both conservation and social and economic realities for the marginalized and often migratory labour in the rural areas, not least on the economies of the farming enterprises.
This agricultural impact is evident in all of the Southern African biomes. Agriculture has been the land use with the greatest impact on habitat change. This programme will focus on this key strategic sector to mainstream biodiversity in productive landscapes. Its great potential lies in its ability for replication and up-scaling across the Southern African region, and beyond.
The focus of this project is to develop a range of husbandry interventions built on a platform of job creation, skills development (and retention), local economic development and economic empowerment strategy that supports biodiversity conservation AND rural livelihoods. The basis of this will be to reintroduce and redevelop shepherding as a profession (and its related and new mitigation tools), which builds on these shepherding skills currently being lost on farms. Furthermore this programme will support this LED efforts through the integrated development of a value-adding wildlife friendly brand (Fair Game) of agricultural produce that will economically support this new paradigm and provide a financial incentive for its sustainable implementation.
Livestock farming: The agricultural landscapes of South Africa are at the heartland of an age-old conflict between livestock farmer and predation occurring on their rangelands. The traditional lethal and indiscriminate controls have caused a disaster for biodiversity across these landscapes and the impact have affected many species and the resultant trophic cascades affected by this impact. The impact on the biodiversity of these land use practices has largely gone unrecorded. This programme wishes to address this and to find and promote both ecological and ethically acceptable land management practices.
Livestock farming is the most prominent land use on a spatial level in South Africa. At the same time, agricultural bodies claim a nationwide impact on livestock farming of R1.5 billion (Van Niekerk et al, 2009) due to predation. While this may be a disputed figure as it is based on highly questionable opinion surveys and not on empirical data, it does demonstrate the priority of the issue. There is paucity and even an absence of quantitative research on the methods available to deal with this matter and its impact. The urgency to conduct this work and analysis cannot be more apparent as the absence of this information and evaluated options for farmers is in part the cause for the continued decimation of faunal diversity occurring on livestock farms in this country through the continued adherence and escalation of the use of these methods.
Finding solutions: The threat is to biodiversity in general through the traditional and widely used methods of damage-causing animal controls. The impact of these practices on floral diversity is not understood, but as with wolf research in Yellowstone, conservationists are only just beginning to understand the impact of predator control on the entire trophic pyramid. This threat to biodiversity provides an opportunity to try, in a prospective, control trial to evaluate the efficacy and impact of the various control methods (lethal and non-lethal) in terms of its impact on biodiversity, livestock production and financial return to landowners. These answers would help authorities, conservationists and agriculturalists to make related and informed decisions on land management, and principally mainstream biodiversity concerns into decision making and policies.
It is through shepherding that appropriate husbandry management and support of a range on ecologically acceptable and ethical predator management options can be implemented that secures biodiversity patterns and processes on livestock farms.
Learning lessons: This programme will have an inbuilt monitoring and evaluation and extension service that will ensure its outreach functions and information dissemination. Researchers will write up the outcomes of this work as a means to educate and disseminate its lessons learnt. These projects will address this through a proper scientific evaluation of all methods of management of predation and damage-causing animals on livestock farms, both lethal (where livestock farmers prefer this method), and non-lethal methods where farmers wish to test these on their farms.
This project is an exercise in demonstration, extension services and land stewardship at its core, and across the agricultural landscape it is an imperative if we hope to effective conserve biodiversity across the landscape.
A way forward: The conservation of the natural food pyramid and all the related trophic levels on livestock farms is the focus of this initiative. This project has identified the need to conserve both the patterns and processes of predation as an essential component in effective landscape conservation initiatives of the entire range of biodiversity patterns and processes.
This programme seeks to “mainstream” biodiversity actions by creating employment, skills development and biodiversity-friendly value adding produce branding that in a practical way results in the payment of ecosystem services and economic development opportunities. Besides, it is a political imperative in South Africa to create jobs. Shepherding is such a method, and value-adding through Fair Game and opportunity for the payment of ecosystem services through such an initiative.