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A project in northern KwaZulu-Natal has helped communal farmers move from subsistence to commercial cattle farming, writes Melissa du Preez.
“This cattle farming project has made the community hungry to succeed and has been an eye-opener to the value in protecting and maximising the potential of our land.”
iNkosi Mabaso beams with pride at the Mgundeni community’s successes in land reform and biodiversity work over the past decade in partnership with WWF South Africa and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The community, living near Utrecht in the remote areas of northern KZN, has become a beacon of what is possible with proper stewardship and direction.
They have successfully transitioned from subsistence to commercial cattle farming – selling 150 cattle for the first time at auction last year.
What makes this 300-strong community so remarkable is that it was the iNkosi himself that approached Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in 1999, wanting to protect his land from unsustainable activities.
In 2006, WWF-SA came into the fold, introducing plans for biodiversity stewardship and social upliftment.
Says Ayanda Cele, manager of Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship for WWF-SA's Grasslands Programme: “Changing our approach from purely conservation to addressing social development changed the way communities and government departments see us.”
WWF-SA works across the Grasslands Biome in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to protect this at-risk land in partnership with affected communities.
The partnership has provided capacity building initiatives in invasive weed control, fire management, the development of a grazing plan and the implementation of a sustainable cattle farming initiative. This includes training in bull and pregnancy testing, the formalisation of the community herd, infrastructure development, a vaccination programme and the establishment of nutritional requirements, among others.
Cele explains, “One needs to be patient in terms of time and employ a holistic approach to including other community challenges, even if not conservation-related, to build trust. Conservation objectives contribute to community development initiatives such as job creation and food security.”
On his community’s response to the project’s milestones, iNkosi Mabaso adds: “This background and learning makes them happy because they’re learning how to use the farm. This is very important because before they were allowing cattle to roam. Now they know to let the cattle graze in one area and then rotate them to allow the land to recover and improve food security.
“Emerging farmers are totally neglected. The partnership has made us realise that we were given farms without any training. People are starting to realise that they must take pride for the skills development to manage their farms.”
In October 2009, the Mgundeni community became the first in South Africa to sign a biodiversity stewardship agreement on communally owned land with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife facilitated by WWF.
The success is obvious: cattle mortality declined to zero in 2015 from between 30 to 40 deaths between 2013 and early 2014. This death rate was due to selective grazing, lack of access to vaccination and improper land management.
In fact, the improvements in these areas have allowed the Mgundeni community to increase the number of cattle to over 700 in 2017 from 520 in 2013.
The community now has a viable, sustainable livestock project that is recognised as the most successful land reform project in the Amajuba district in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
“The partnership has grown community support and enthusiasm, feeding into the future success of the project,” boasts iNkosi Mabaso.
This community is just one that has recognised the vital link between their livelihoods and protection of the land on which they rely.
“The real change that we bring to rural communities is to reignite hope in a hopeless situation,” says Cele.