ANTICIPATION AND MITIGATION OF AGRICULTURAL RISKS TO CREATE A RESILIENT RED MEAT SECTOR
Ruminant livestock production is largely natural resourced-based, which places restrictions on the competitiveness of the livestock sector. Traditionally extensive livestock farming is implemented in areas with a lower agricultural petential, specifically unsuited for crop production. Such areas are notorious for inherent risks regarding sustainable production, for example low and erratic rainfall patterns, frequent occurence of natural disasters such as droughts and floods (climate change), predation, livestock theft and security.
Official support services committed to address droughts, for example, are highly fragmented. Early warning systems for drought detection, drought management and drought classification are not in place and hampered by lack of clear policies. The provincial departments of agriculture lack the necessary expertise and knowledge to develop functional mitigation strategies for drought and other risks within the different production areas. The impact of drought does not recognise artificial borders, differ greatly between biomes and for the commercial and the communal livestock sectors. Therefore, policies to identify and address the risks have to be implemented at national level and not at provincial level.
Ruminant livestock utilises veld (natural pasture or rangeland) as a major feed source. The veld is grazed by ruminants, namely domesticated cattle, sheep and goats as well as indigenous wildlife and is also utilised by other herbivores species, such as domesticated equines and several wildlife species. Thus, domesticated and wild herbivorous species play an important role in providing food security.
Of equal importance is the large and medium-sized carnivorous predators that have been part of the South African landscape for centuries and implicated for predation losses. However, losses attributed to predation on livestock farms and wildlife ranches are poorly quantified. Recently, predation losses on sheep and goats in five provinces were estimated at more than ZAR 1.39 thousand million annually. In another study, the predation losses for beef cattle in seven provinces is estimated at more than ZAR 383 million annually. A third study concluded that the negative impact of predation on wildlife ranches in South Africa was comparable to those for livestock. Predation losses are ascribed to black-backed jackals, caracals, leopards, brown hyenas, cheetahs and vagrant dogs. Back-backed jackal was the predominant predator, but in Limpopo and North West Provinces, leopard was the top predator.
Predation on livestock farms and wildlife ranches falls within the general ambit of agriculture, in close participation with relevant environmental/conservation authorities. Solutions to manage the challenges regarding human-wildlife conflict in South Africa call for a common South African institutional memory. Important information is currently kept in different official databases by nine provincial and national departments. Apparently the sources are filed without being integrated and often also in total isolation from each other. The overwhelming majority of information on predation and hunting of predators is held privately by a large number of specialist predator hunters and farmers and with no real integration with other private and public sources of information.
The founding of the Predation Management Forum (PMF) in 2009 was a momentous step, but the PMF remained only a forum to unite the different livestock and wildlife producers’ organisations for a common purpose and action, namely predation management. It is important that the PMF urgently engage with other role players in a system of coordinated predation management (CPM). These role players include among others the national and provincial departments of environmental affairs and agriculture, universities that could make a scientific contribution, scientific research institutions and meaningful representation by specialist predator hunters.
Farmers and government should be equal partners in this venture, each with specific responsibilities. The government is responsible for policy, coordination, extension, training, research, monitoring and effective communication, while the livestock farmers and wildlife ranchers are responsible for protecting their animals and control predators. An important element of the system is an institutional memory or management information system (MIS). It is the pivot for a common source of information, planning, leadership and guidance with predation management and prevent fragmented and uncoordinated actions. The CPM should form part of the official structures of the national department of agriculture, with good liaison and coordination with the national and provincial counterparts in environmental affairs.
Good information regarding predation and appropriate control methods are important components of a system of CPM. The institutional memory serves as central information source and should provide practical answers on the following type of questions:
- Areas where predation losses are reported (species involved)
- Is there a relation between reported cases of predation and the predation management?
- Is there a decline in reported cases of predation following predation management?
- What are the results achieved with different predation management methods?
- Which relevant questions must be resolved through directed scientific research?
- Who are the recognised and proven role players (e.g. specialists in managing predators)?
The current approach to manage predation is fragmented and uncoordinated. The alarming scale and impact of predation on livestock farms and wildlife ranches calls for a focused and coordinated predation management and research and development programme (R&D) to reduce (mitigate) the negative impact of predation and specifically to manage and human-wildlife conflict. Urgent revision of the enabling legislation pertaining to different tiers of government and specifically impeding regulations are required.
The PMF held a workshop on 21 February 2019 at the Nelson Mandela University (NMU) to develop a framework that will give direction to research and training/extension, which will be practical for all to support, and actively engage and participate in. Tertiary institutions, predation specialists, national departments of government (environment and agriculture) and provincial conservation authorities, attended the event.
Research projects conducted on predation management by tertiary institutions such as the Nelson Mandela University, UNISA and the Universities of the Free State, Cape Town, Mpumalanga and Fort Hare were presented and concern was expressed that predation losses was apparently increasing.
A research model used by the fruit industry for setting priorities, funding models and, involving stakeholders served as an example for predation research. It was emphasised that such a model or organisation is grower-focused and expert-based, it is addressing current and anticipating future challenges, and that all the processes begin and end with communication. The workshop supported the advice of sound communication with all stakeholders, including policymakers. What is required is a formalised structure that will address the gaps identified by producers, researchers (from the Scientific Assessment) and the government. These gaps should ultimately address environmental, societal and economic needs.
Contrary to commonly held beliefs and perceptions, livestock theft is not limited to a particular continent, country or area. It is a global phenomenon that manifests on various scales and dimensions, occurring since livestock herders first tamed the aurochs in 7000 BC. Livestock theft, livestock producers in South Africa have tended to assume the role of victims, subscribing to the myth that the police should be able to prevent crime, and all crimes are blamed on the inefficiency of the criminal justice system.
Agriculture is an extremely important economic contributor to the social well-being of South Africa. Producers need to take control of their own destiny in relation to livestock theft. In this regard the livestock theft prevention forums that have already been established should be used to protect the agricultural sector in general and red meat producers in particular.
The phenomenon of livestock theft clearly cannot be generalised, as it differs in extent between regions and provinces. Nevertheless, it is the role and responsibility of the National Livestock Theft Prevention Forum to inform the general public of its efforts to reduce the scourge of livestock theft.
The uncontrolled anthropogenic (man-made) release of greenhouse gasses (GHG) into the atmosphere is thought to be the primary cause of a systematic and unprecedented increase in sea and surface temperatures. The major greenhouse gasses are hydrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO2), with smaller amounts of volatile and synthetic substances. Administrators, politicians, scientists and the caring public are primarily concerned about the emissions of CO2, CH4 and NO2, either because other emissions are minute in comparison or, in the case of hydrogen; we cannot do much about it, at least until very recently.
Of the three, CO2 is by far the most abundant, but the global warming potential of CH4 is about 23 times more than that of CO2 and that of NO2 310 times, resulting in them being significant participants in the greenhouse emission family. Whereas CO2 release results mostly from non-agricultural activities (power plants, deforestation, transport, oil and gas production and manufacturing), CH4 results primarily from enteric fermentation of plant material in the digestive tract of animals and fermentation of their waste (e.g. manure, sewage sludge), and NO2 from nitrogen fertilisation. Their emissions are therefore the concern and responsibility of agriculture as a whole and livestock farming in particular. Grass burning within particular livestock management systems is also a concern because it releases CO2 into the atmosphere.
Climate change represents a feedback loop within which livestock production both contributes to the problem and suffers the consequences. The impact of global warming and continued uncontrolled release of GHG thus has twofold implications for R&D and management:
1. The continuous increase in temperature is predicted to have a direct effect on:
- Water supply
- The future distribution of livestock species and breeds
- Their adaptability to increased heat load and otherwise
- Incidence and type of diseases
- Feed supplies
- Grazing potential
- Food (nutrition) security
This is because of changes in temperature, relative humidity, rainfall distribution in time and space, and changes in ecosystem, biome composition, woody species encroachment and alien plant invasion.
With reference to agriculture and livestock production, the responsibility is to limit the release of GHG (the carbon footprint) and water use (the water footprint) in order to ensure future sustainability. This can be done by implementing new or adapted production systems; by the use of known and new technologies that can limit GHG emissions, water use and waste; by employing technologies to turn waste into assets; and by promoting sustainable human diets with low environmental impacts. The challenge facing R&D is to support livestock farmers in developing new and adapted technologies to attain this goal.
CO₂ AND SOUTH AFRICA’S CHANGING BIOMES
Among global drivers, the rising carbon dioxide (CO₂) level is the most likely candidate driving the changing balance between grasses and woody plants, and is likely to be a very important contributor to vegetation change across Africa.
Increasing CO₂ can improve tree growth and the CO₂ fertilisation effect should allow responsive species to cope far better with fire and browsers than in the past (see box for details). Long-term burning experiments in the Kruger National Park and Eastern Cape have shown striking increases in three dominant woody species, Acacia karroo, Dichrostachys cinerea and Terminalia sericea. Negligible change was recorded in Kruger from the 1950s to the 1970s, but from the 1970s to the early 2000s, there was a ten-fold increase in the number of Terminalia sericea and an eight-fold increase in Dichrostachys cinerea. These changes occurred in spite of the same fire treatments over the entire period. The change in tree response is most likely a result of a global driver, the inadvertent effects of CO₂ fertilisation. No comparable changes were seen in Acacia nigrescens in semi-arid savanna, therefore the CO₂ fertilisation effect is not a general one. Screening of CO₂ responsiveness is needed for a wider diversity of species to establish which species are likely to become natural invaders.
An important message on the CO₂ effect on woody plants is that land practices that were effective in controlling trees in the past, may be ineffective today and in future. Yet management practices do clearly influence ecological trajectories of land cover change. With innovative thinking, we have far more potential to manage our future ecosystems to the most desirable state than, say, nations in the north where global warming is transforming the environment. Alternatively, we can passively accept the changes and suffer the uncertain consequences of our changing natural environment.
LAND COVER – CHANGES AND ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES
The change in land use can affect important ecosystem services. For example, large increases in trees can significantly increase water use by vegetation, thereby reducing the amount of water entering rivers and wetlands.
Increasing tree cover in game parks reduces their appeal to visitors as game viewing opportunities are affected and the sense of place is altered. This not only reduces the tourism potential of an area, but also forces managers to increase the amount of time and money spent on clearing bush.
Grazing land is impacted. For example, in Namibia it has been calculated that bush infestation affects 26 million hectares and has led to a 60% decline of commercial livestock over the past 40 years, causing losses to the national economy. Farmers not only lose grazing land, but also face additional bush-clearing costs. On a positive note, the additional wood provides a potential economic benefit and can be used as a source of clean energy.
Alien plant invasion in areas like the fynbos biome is converting large natural areas, reducing water yield and damaging these natural areas. For example, a study on alien plant invasions in some parts of fynbos areas showed that alien invasion of catchment areas could result in a 30% loss of water provision to Cape Town.
Droughts are normal phenomena in South Africa. A range of factors, including the increasing effects of global warming, drives droughts. Therefore, planning for inevitable droughts must form an integral part of all long-term planning of livestock systems. It requires an early-warning system and best practice models for the different production areas. In its basic permutation a drought manifests it by a growing shortage of plant material on veld available for grazing/browsing livestock. The incidence and effects of such droughts, which are driven my climatic factors, must not be confused with the serious consequences resulting from irresponsible overgrazing of the veld.