The Sunday News
A COLLEAGUE who is also a passionate livestock farmer Mr Mitsho Nkomo, from a village near Plumtree says he has fought relentless and at times bruising battles protecting the rangeland within the jurisdiction of his village.
The battles have been largely a resistance to overstocking and encroachment by other farmers from other areas. It has involved all types of people from ordinary farmers to heads of departments among various Government officials. He has stood firm together with the village leaders and consequently the rangeland within their village remains in an impressive state.
His fight to regulate the utilisation of the rangeland within their village brings to the fore one important aspect which is evidently missing in most communities. This is the use of rangeland management committees to oversee veld management and rangeland utilisation.
This is a serious omission in our extension services and it needs to be rectified. Some neighbouring villages to the one describe above are already overgrazed as they are either struggling with overstocking due to influx of cattle coming in for relief grazing or they simply mismanaged their veld.
The unregulated recruitment of cattle herds seeking relief grazing has resulted in overstocking of most A1 resettlement schemes with the inevitable accelerated degradation of the rangelands. Villagers in these schemes have been accepting cattle seeking relief grazing as these usual pay in heifers per certain number of animals that they bring.
While relief grazing is an acceptable livestock drought mitigation strategy, communities tend to over enroll herds seeking relief grazing to the extent that they end up becoming vulnerable themselves. It is against this background that I call for the set up of rangeland management committees for the purpose of guarding against over exploitation of this source of cheap animal feed.
This committee can also lead in setting up of fire guards which are usually missing in most resettled farms and hence veld fires tend to have devastating effects as they ravage large expanses of rangeland unhindered.
It is also no secret that most resettlement areas are struggling with maintaining paddocking fences as it either gets stolen or vandalized.
Such a committee can also oversee the policing of the perimeter and paddocking fences as these form an integral part of rangeland management. There are other aspects of rangeland management which some farms are struggling with such as bush encroachment and these can also be brought under the ambit of this committee.
In some cases, where the veld clearly needs reinforcement and rejuvenating such as in communal areas, the committee can become handy.
It must be appreciated that rangeland management is often left on auto pilot in most smallholder farming areas including communal areas. It is my submission therefore that as part of Government agricultural extension strategy, rangeland management committees should be set up and capacitated to effectively superintend over the utilisation and exploitation of the rangelands. This will ensure that even those areas that we inherited during the land reform are kept pristine and are not run down by reckless agricultural practices such as over stocking.
The committee can also help to champion adoption of some tested rangeland management practices such as holistic rangeland management such that they can gain traction within the smallholder livestock farmers.
Some of our communities are struggling with rangelands that have been invaded by unpalatable grass species yet there are ways of managing those out. However, this will need to be led by a properly structured community leadership hence the need for rangeland management committees.
It is high time we realise that rangeland management is active process which involves consciously taking a decision to intervene not this free ranging approach that we are employing as a nation. One can almost argue that we have enough rangeland for the national livestock herd, we just need to improve how we manage it.
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