Livestock Auction Eases Pressure on Rural Farmers and Rangelands in South Africa’s Eastern Cape
By Rosanne Stanway, Conservation South Africa (CSA)
On May 24th, during the national COVID-19 related lockdown in South Africa, Conservation South Africa (CSA) facilitated a legally-compliant, socially-distanced and highly sanitized livestock auction high in the foothills of the Maluti-Drakensberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape, injecting over US$95000 into the pockets of 162 cash-strained rural farmers and easing pressure on their communal rangelands ahead of the dry season.
The mobile auction at Thaba Chicha, run by social enterprise Meat Naturally, was coordinated by CSA as part of a Conservation Agreement benefit package to rural livestock farmers managing their herds and rangelands more sustainably through planned grazing and other practices.
Conservation Agreements are used in sustainable landscapes globally, and are a negotiated exchange of benefits, in return for a change in behaviour, depending on verified performance. We know in many parts of the world, people use land, water and other natural resources in unsustainable ways, purely because they have no economic alternatives. When provided with the right incentives, protecting the environment becomes an increasingly viable and attractive choice.
We’ve seen this first hand in the uMzimvubu catchment, in these high biodiversity grasslands on the border of Lesotho, where livestock owners commit to implementing planned grazing, thereby improving rangeland management and associated water infiltration, and decreasing erosion, which enhances ecosystem services for this Strategic Water Source Area. In return, CSA provides the benefit of market access – a high sought after opportunity to turn their livestock into money for food, school fees and home repairs that is otherwise rarely found in these remote, rural areas.
Meat Naturally plays a critical role in this exchange: as a social enterprise, all livestock sellers are welcome, but Meat Naturally gives a discounted rate on their service to livestock owners who have participated in the conservation agreement commitments – so there is a tangible fiscal benefit to their actions beyond the market access itself.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape region falls into Conservation International’s (CI) ‘Africa Rangeland Scape’ and is locally referred to as the uMzimvubu landscape, as it is defined by the catchment of the uMzimvubu river. Our footprint in this area started in 2012, when CSA co-led the inception of a multi stakeholder platform, the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership, where we came together to develop a 20-year vision and strategy for the landscape.
It was here that rangeland degradation through unplanned grazing was identified as a major driver, and that the key to unlock rangeland management, and therefore restore and maintain critical biodiversity, carbon, water and ecosystem services of these grasslands, was market access. Livestock owners had nowhere to sell their cows. Through this partnership, the Meat Naturally model was born, incubated within CSA and since 2016 has been flourishing as a fully-fledged business of its own.
This environment of shared threats, collective vision, common goals and a demonstration landscape in which to develop and innovate, is where I see one tremendous value of the ‘Sustainable Landscape Approach’. Through working in partnerships, we have been able to achieve so much more than we would have ever alone. Not only did over 162 rural livestock farmers collectively earn $95 000 in last week’s auction, but since the COVID-19 national lockdown in South Africa, market access through conservation agreements has yielded $252 000 for 382 farmers, with auctions facilitated through other valued partners in the catchment. Through this Sustainable Landscape Approach, we are able to reach real scale, real impact, and real resilience for people and nature.
Rosanne Stanway is Conservation South Africa’s (CSA) Director of Sustainable Landscapes