Integrated Farming the missing piece for communal farmers
Samson Phakathi, the EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme Senior Community Project Officer, Samsonp@ewt.org.za
Integrated farming promotes the responsible use of natural resources and farming practices that use fewer external resources, making farming more sustainable. The concept is particularly well suited to communal land where land degradation and the resultant soil erosion and spread of encroaching plant species tend to be quite prevalent. Moreover, it is becoming evident that there is often an imbalance between livestock ratios and the availability of food and water for the animals in these landscapes. The Integrated Farm Planning (IFP) training thus came at a time when most of the community farmers desperately needed assistance to improve their management practices.
Through the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) funding, the Endangered Wildlife Trust engaged with 35 emerging farmers from the Cedarville area in the Eastern Cape. Our goal was to assist them with implementing integrated farm planning (IFP) by hosting a training day in the field that we published an article on in May 2022.
The emerging farmers were carefully selected from areas within hotspots of the distribution of the three threatened crane species. These areas contain wetlands and grasslands required for the Endangered Grey Crowned Cranes, Critically Endangered Wattled Cranes, and Near Threatened Blue Cranes. Unfortunately, these habitats are highly threatened by poor rangeland management. The IFP training was designed to upskill emerging farmers to identify management-related challenges in areas where they graze their livestock. The farmers then formulate practical solutions, incorporating local knowledge and capacity to address issues. The IFP training was eye-opening to emerging farmers, who now appreciate that rangeland management is key to the sustainability of communal lands in terms of grazing, water conservation, and community livelihoods. The training emphasized the importance of species diversity in grazing lands and the need to conserve species through improved grazing management.
After successfully organizing and facilitating the well-attended IFP and sustainable grazing management training, the EWT arranged for a community exchange visit for the Cedarville emerging farmers to the Black Diamond Community situated in the Ukhahlamba mountain range. The Black Diamond community is quite progressive regarding practical rangeland management initiatives. The exchange visit was thus key as it allowed the Cedarville emerging farmers to interact with the Black Diamond community and draw lessons on what can be duplicated, adopted, or adapted to the Cedarville context.
The exchange visit ran from 18–19 April 2022, with over 70 people attending. The Cedarville and Black Diamond communities’ engagements and discussions were quite constructive. What stood out was the ability of the Cedarville emerging farmers to interpret the Black Diamond grazing camps using the IFP training concept, showing that the messaging resonated with the emerging farmers. More emphasis was also placed on encouraging the Cedarville emerging farmers to look at their available local capacity and resources as they improve their rangeland management. This is important, especially if self-sustaining communities with local knowledge and capacity can encourage others to address these issues. The exchange visit was also attended by key stakeholders, including a government department, another NGO, the ward councillor, and a local King.
From the project initiation phase, where robust engagements about the community’s vision for their land and how IFP can complement their activities, to the actual training session and the community exchange visit, we observed the communities taking the lead in identifying local issues, formulating intervention measures, mobilizing resources and capacity, and implementing solutions. The IFP training seemed to be the missing piece, providing the solutions for farmers to succeed, especially in highly strained communal lands in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. This paradigm shift to grazing management in communities can only benefit species diversity, livestock, and, more importantly, the stability of soils, vegetation, and the resultant positive spin-offs in the form of community livelihoods.
This training was made possible with funds from the National Lotteries Commission. The NLC relies on funds from the proceeds of the National Lottery. The Lotteries Act and regulations guide the way in which NLC funding may be allocated. The NLC wants the grants to make a difference in the lives of all South Africans, especially those more vulnerable, and to improve the sustainability of the beneficiary organizations. Available funds are distributed to registered and qualifying non-profit organizations in the fields of charities; arts, culture, and national heritage; and sport and recreation. By placing its emphasis on areas of greatest need and potential, the NLC contributes to South Africa’s development.