Farming for Conservation

Day 5 of the Iowa Farm Bureau market study tour of South Africa started with a visit to a family farm on the highveld. They had 2,000 hectares of land and raised yellow maize (corn), soya (soybeans), Merino sheep, and cattle. This diverse operation also pressed their own soya for the oil. They produced cooking oil for local markets and also made their own oil cake to feed their animals. By pressing 20% of the oil out of the soybeans they can reduce the fat content and increase the protein content to 46% thereby concentrating the feed and making it more efficient for the animals. They press nearly 7,000 tons of soya a year.

They do not have the right equipment to minimize crop loss during harvest. Therefore many of the soybeans are lost on the ground. This could represent a significant loss to the operation. But they have capitalized on this by letting their sheep graze the soybean fields after harvest. The sheep clean up almost all of the lost beans. This added protein in their diet has had the fortuitous effect of increasing their rate of producing twin lambs by 11%!

The drought has not hit this area as hard and their yellow maize crop will be very good. Yellow maize will be sold as livestock feed whereas the white maize we have previously seen is preferred for human consumption.

We continued our drive northeast and along the way passed tulip farms and prickly pear cactus farms. Holland is a big export market for tulip bulbs.

Many Americans have heard of Cecil the lion and many had the reaction of being outraged. However, as Americans we don’t always understand the dynamics of game and hunting in South Africa. More and more, game is being looked at as a valuable resource that the people of South Africa need to manage. It is a complex web where on one hand large predators threaten livestock. On the other hand there is big money to be made in the private hunting business (by South African law all game is private property and owned by the landowner). From another point of view tourists to Africa want to see pristine wildlife in natural habitat conserved in perpetuity. In all three of these situations it is important to manage the number of animals and the carrying capacity of the land. Humans are involved and we can’t take a hands off approach. And all three of those scenarios are threatened by poaching and other illegal activities.

Consequently, game farming has become an important part of agriculture in South Africa. We visited Hannah Game Lodge that catered to tourists and provided up close views of wildlife. But in addition to that they have breeding programs that provide many species to other game reserves helping to ensure healthy populations of herds. On our short drive into the bush we saw oryx, waterbuck, greater kudu, nyala, sable antelope, Impala, Cape buffalo, giraffe, ostriches, and warthogs.

The lodge used to raise rhinos but after a poaching incident had to sell their stock. If selling rhino horn was legalized, the supply could easily eliminate the black market demand and poaching. Rhino horn grows approximately 2in / year and can be harvested sustainably without harming the animals. One kilo of rhino horn sells for approximately $500,000 on the Chinese black market. This severely threatens rhino populations because poachers kill the animals to remove the horns.

The key takeaway is that by commercializing hunting and raising game even more, it is possible to eliminate illegal harvest of animals and provide a needed revenue source for wildlife conservation.


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