Evaluating people-environment trade-offs through low-tech intensification of livestock management in communal grazing systems in South Africa.

Lead Research Organisation: Coventry University
Department Name: Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resili

Abstract

In South Africa, communal rangelands (e.g. grassland, savanna and shrubland) systems provide a critical source of livelihood for smallholder farmers, primarily through their ability to support smallscale livestock production and through the provision of natural resources such as timber, fuelwood and thatching grass. These rangelands also provide other vital ecosystem services such as water and a habitat for biodiversity and contribute to climate resilience through carbon sequestration. However, their productivity is compromised both by their inherently low forage quality and rangeland degradation due to unregulated grazing, the spread of invasive alien plants (IAPs) and the encroachment of indigenous woody plants. All of these factors limit forage availability for livestock, reducing animal production and survival. This compromises the livelihood security of communal livestock farmers for whom livestock perform multiple roles, including the provision of meat, milk, draught and manure. The IAPs also affect the water supply and run-off to storage reservoirs throughout South Africa and their clearance has become a policy priority for the South African government.

This proposal builds on existing research in Eastern Cape Province, working with six local communities in Matatiele to explore alternative rangeland management strategies that yield livelihood benefits for local people as well as improved ecosystem benefits. Specifically, we will test the role of intensive grazing and corralling of community livestock, in conjunction with the removal of IAPs to increase primary production of grassland, soil carbon and fertility and water availability, as well as improve livestock productivity. As part of this we propose the novel use of the removed IAPs as a soil amendment and as a supplemental feed for livestock. In order to link these different production outcomes we will develop an integrated model of livestock and rangeland production. We will use the outcomes of this model to explore the potential trade-offs between local people and their environment and between different groups of stakeholders (e.g. between conservationists and local farmers and between different groups of farmers) in the context of clearly defined 'scenarios' for the use of communal rangelands, which will be co-developed with local stakeholders. Importantly, these scenarios will give voice to the more marginalised members of local communities, such as women, who many not have livestock and have greater dependency on the harvesting of natural resources. The trade-off outcomes will be shared with local stakeholders and used to support decisions about how best to make use of the alternative rangeland management techniques to achieve the different land use scenarios they have identified.

The proposal is unique in that it is the first attempt to use an integrated model of animal and plant production to explore trade-offs between different production scenarios in a communal grazing system in South Africa. If successful the approach has potential for extrapolation to many more communities throughout Eastern Cape and other communal grazing areas of South Africa through an existing 'Herding for Health' initiative that the proposal builds on.

Technical Summary

In South Africa, communal rangelands systems provide a critical source of livelihood for smallholder farmers as well as key ecosystem services such as water cycling and carbon sequestration. However, the productivity of these rangelands is compromised by their inherently low forage quality and rangeland degradation due to unregulated grazing, the spread of invasive alien plants (IAPs) and the encroachment of indigenous woody plants. All of these factors limit forage availability for livestock, reducing animal production and surviva, and as a consequence grazier livelihoods. The IAPs also limit water supply and run-off.

This proposal builds on existing research in Eastern Cape Province, to test the role of intensive grazing and corralling of community livestock, in conjunction with the removal of IAPs, to increase primary production of grassland, soil carbon and fertility and water availability, as well as improve livestock productivity. As part of this we propose the novel use of the removed IAPs as a soil amendment in the form of wood chips and biochar and their use as a supplemental feed for livestock in combination with natural hay as part of a controlled feeding trial. In order to link these different production outcomes we will develop an integrated model of livestock and rangeland production. This will be based on the SPACSYS model of grassland production developed by Rothamsted Research (UK), linked to an appropriate livestock module. We will use the outcomes of this model to explore the potential trade-offs between local people and environment and between different groups of stakeholders in the context of clearly defined 'scenarios' for the use of communal rangelands, which will be co-developed with local stakeholders. The trade-offs outcomes will be shared with local stakeholders and used to support decisions about how best to make use of the alternative rangeland management techniques to achieve the different land use scenarios they have identified.

Planned Impact

Three main groups of end users will be targeted for impact as part of this research.

1). Local smallholder farmers in Matatiele, stand to benefit in four main ways. Firstly, capacity will be built amongst livestock owners and local leaders in the development of sustainable, local institutions for rangeland management as part of a two day workshop at the start of the project. This will be important in ensuring in the longer term that there is the institutional capacity to undertake the intensive rangeland management that underpins the potential changes in production and ecosystem function that are being explored in this proposal. Secondly, and linked to this, will be the further development of a rangeland management 'toolkit', which has already been pioneered by Conservation South Africa (CSA). This outlines a protocol for landscape restoration and ways to enhance livestock production. The findings regarding the alternative rangeland management approaches trialled in the research will be incorporated into this through images and written text (in Xhosa) to enable further dissemination in the communities. This will be complemented by the creation of short videos illustrating the application of these rangeland management practices by local people, which will be serve to help train other local livestock farmers who are keen to engage with the practices. Thirdly, the outputs of the trade-offs analysis will serve as a discussion support tool, enabling informed community decisions to be made about the adoption of different rangeland management practices and the likely gains for different groups of people. Finally, the project will evaluate the potential for improving livelihoods of local farmers by linking the implementation of intensive grazing practices to ecosystem payments as part of a Verified Carbon Scheme (VCS). The first stage of this will to explore with livestock owners, as part of the grazing capacity training, their ability and willingness to undertake the intensive grazing required. Together with actual soil carbon measurements, CSA will then use this as a basis for brokering a potential pilot VCS arrangement between the six villages and the standard body.

2). Policy makers and development practitioners. Policy makers and NGO practitioners at a local, national and international level have the potential to benefit from the trade-offs analysis approach being pioneered within the six research communities. The outcomes of the trade-offs analysis will provide an informed basis for local decision making on how best to develop policy and practice to support the integrity and function of rangeland systems and balance this with maximising production benefits and livelihood security for local people. Furthermore, the methodological protocol adopted in this proposal, involving the initial creation of scenarios aligned with different stakeholder objectives through to the development of the integrated model to deliver the outputs from which potential trade-offs are explored, provides a template for further application of the trade-offs approach more widely in communal grazing systems both within South Africa and other developing countries.

3). Early career researchers. Capacity will be built amongst the two PDRAs involved in the proposal by facilitating them to present research findings at one conference per year over two years of the project. The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) PDRAat Coventry University will further be trained in participatory methods by being involved in the organisation and facilitation of the stakeholder workshops and focus groups, contributing to the development of additional skills. The PDRAs will also attend the Royal Society's annual two-day residential Communication and Media Skills course to help develop their writing skills and develop confidence in their communication of research findings.

Publications

10 25 50