Rethinking range ecology
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CTA. 1993. Rethinking range ecology. Spore 48. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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If the 1980s were 'the lost decade' in African development then the use made of rangeland was high on the list of problem areas. The majority of ranching projects, range enclosures, community grazing schemes and resettlement of pastoralists are...
If the 1980s were 'the lost decade' in African development then the use made of rangeland was high on the list of problem areas. The majority of ranching projects, range enclosures, community grazing schemes and resettlement of pastoralists are mostly now only case studies in wasted resources. Kilometres of barbed wire, broken fences and abandoned bore holes are the physical evidence of failure. However, more recently there have been valiant attempts to offer a viable alternative, notably 'holistic resource management' in southern Africa. And the World Bank has funded work on pastoral administration in francophone Africa in an attempt to determine the elements required to make community management possible. Against this background the Commonwealth Secretariat. using funds provided by the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. began a modest project in 1991 to examine firstly the technical issues and secondly the policy implications of a new approach to the management of communal rangeland in Africa. The interest and support which this attracted encouraged the Commonwealth Secretariat to link with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and explore the issues further in a series of policy workshops, case studies and publications, which are now available from the Secretariat. There was a remarkable degree of consensus when the technical aspects of rangeland use were considered by ecologists, pasture scientists, and rangeland specialists. A detailed treatment of the topic is offered in a recently published book Range ecology at disequilibrium (see Spore 47 Bookshelf page 15). The book poses challenging questions which require radical new ideas in the planning of resource use in savannah areas. In Africa, especially in marginal rainfall areas, the management of pastoral production is not only geared to producing meat but also to fulfilling a number of other livelihood objectives. Milk, blood, traction power and transport are some examples of products and services required from a herd which do not require animal slaughter. Therefore development interventions geared at boosting only a single output (usually meat) are unlikely to be welcome, or to work. Too much emphasis on beef In the past the science of range management has been heavily influenced by beef ranchers, and rangeland has been assessed with beef production in mind. Hence the whole idea of 'carrying capacity' came to be associated with a single economic goal. However, livestock numbers have grown steadily in Africa for about fifty years, and are now usually well beyond the official carrying capacity. The first challenge to orthodox thinking is to reconsider the idea of a single carrying capacity and accept that the economic stocking rate may differ with different production systems. This leads to the assessment of 'overgrazing' which we have assumed is a result of exceeding the carrying capacity. Warnings on the overgrazing of the African bush have been increasingly frequent since the 1 930's. A complete science has developed in assessing range condition and standard botanical indicators have been used to assess an optimum stocking level. However, this places all the emphasis on the relationship between grazing and the vegetation without due consideration of the huge oscillations in rainfall. In short, the areas where pastoralism is most important are prone to drought and the whole system is unstable or 'non-equilibrium'. The only way the herders can cope is to be flexible. The term 'opportunistic' is often used to describe pastoral systems practiced by groups such as the Turkana of north-west Kenya. Their herd management responds to alternative periods of high and low grass productivity and so 'tracks' environmental events. This tracking strategy also requires spatial flexibility. Herds need to move not only to areas where rainfall is better, but also to exploit the natural variation in the landscape where grazing is better, such as wadi bottoms, dambos, and floodplains. Such opportunism in migratory stock keeping underpins the most efficient use of their sparse resources. However in a political climate where movement is confined, the pastoralists are placed under greater pressure. The implications Bringing new ideas forward and challenging the conventional thinking has proved relatively easy compared to the thorny issue of defining alternative approaches. The implications of planning for uncertain events, seizing opportunities, and avoiding hazards all impact on a host of other issues such as land tenure, livestock marketing, pastoral administration and the interface with cropping systems. These are all difficult issues and in order to explore how any opportunistic management strategy could be practically implemented a series of seven studies was commissioned and presented at a recent research workshop held at Woburn. UK. This work is being supported by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), UK and the World Bank. A brief record of this meeting has been published in New directions in African range management and policy (June 93). It is no surprise that the clear picture which emerged following the ecological work is less sharp when the socio-economic dimension is considered. However, if any strategy is to be developed which encourages development initiatives in these marginal areas' then the more difficult issues must be confronted and, where necessary, government policy must reflect the requirements of sustainable rangeland management
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