The status of Ghanzi as Botswana’s prime beef producer is threatened by absence of best practice in rangeland management and inappropriate land conservation improvement interventions. This has culminated in poor veldt conditions in the greater Kalahari ranches and communal grazing areas, says Edwin Mudongo of the University of Botswana Office of Research and Development Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.
Mudongo warned that widespread scarcity of palatable perennial grasses coupled with bare ground during dry seasons in the Ghanzi livestock farming district, have contributed to poor cattle productivity, low economic gains for individual farmers and near-collapse of the national beef industry. Scarcity of palatable perennial grasses is exacerbated by encroachment of stifling rapid woody vegetation.
Mudongo was presenting a research paper titled: ”The influence of grazing and fire Management on rangeland dynamics in the Kgalagadi ecosystem, western Botswana” during the IUCN-funded Botswana National Rangeland Management Conference (BNRMC) on Improving Rangeland Management (IRM) in Kgalagadi District held in Gaborone last week.
He said Ghanzi falls within Botswana’s semi-arid climatic zone, with a mean annual rainfall of about 430mm and barren Kalahari sands and soils, similar to neighboring Maun. As a result, grazing management becomes a logistical nightmare given the extremely inconsistent veldt conditions on adjacent ranches. Rangeland research in the area is scarce compounded with knowledge gaps on causes and results of inappropriate rangeland management.
“The key research objectives include determining the influence of grazing system management on rangeland quality and productivity; and defoliation frequency, dung biomass on pasture survival; as well as grazing intensity on grass and woody vegetation,” he said.
Ongoing research has exposed over-grazing as a function of time and not stock density; that is time spent grazing an area rather than animal populations. Thus destocking alone without proper grazing management will not improve rangeland conditions. Timely and sufficient grazing, rest and stock reduction during critical times involving seasonal phenomena such as droughts, are more applicable in fenced ranches than free-range communal areas. Be that as it may, recommendations to policy makers should involve changes in grazing strategies rather than stock rates and carrying capacities. Nonetheless, grazing in communal areas require grazing strategies emphasizing timely and adequate graze and rest periods. To avoid the adverse effects, grazing management is the key factor influencing rangeland dynamics.
According to Thusego Mochanang of the Kgalagadi Land Board, following Botswana’s attainment of independence in 1966, the new government passed legislation to remove imbalances by Dikgosi in management of communal land vis-├á-vis allocation of residential space, communal grazing, hunting-and-gathering and arable land-use. Mochanang said: “In 1975 the government’s Tribal Grazing Land Policy (TGLP), regulated allocation of water points including dams, pit-wells and boreholes in the communal area, 8 – 6km from each other. TGLP also resulted in the introduction of commercial farms in communal areas, demarcated mostly on virgin land, to attract large herd owners from communal areas. Government introduced Agricultural Resources Board and district conservation committees to manage stocking rates in farms and communal areas. Problems arose because of dual rights for those owning farms and livestock in communal areas.
“In 1991 government introduced New Policy on Agricultural Development (NPAD) which had a fencing component, converting communal areas into commercial farms,” he said.
In 2003 first consultation on national land policy was done and policy is currently before Parliament. The ultimate goal of IUCN’s work in Botswana is to develop and implement a communal rangelands management plan for the Kgalagadi District, Boravast and Khawa communities, based on Botswana law, and supported by the majority of the community and fully endorsed by the government of Botswana. This goal requires support; learning and adaptive management over several project cycles, and this rangeland governance learning forum was a significant first step towards the goal. The specific objectives of the forum are among others to identify workable solutions and innovations involving the development of rangelands management project sites as launch pads. The forum would compile a report on community rangelands management options, barriers and recommendations for progress as key steps to improving the Boravast communal area.