The contribution of arable land allocations to cattle production systems in communal areas of central Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
The communal (former homeland) areas of South Africa are characterised by high concentrations of black people many of whom live in extreme poverty. In recent years this has been exacerbated by the collapse of state-run farmer assistance schemes, which has resulted in very low levels of agricultural production in these areas. The new South African government has proposed the revitalisation of small-scale agriculture as an important mechanism for uplifting rural livelihoods here. This research was undertaken in the former homeland of Ciskei, in what is now central Eastern Cape Province. Here agricultural decline has resulted in large areas of land designated for crop production lying fallow in the long term. Livestock production offers greater livelihood potential in this region, and it was therefore posited that this essentially abandoned cropland might be better utilised as a permanent grazing resource for livestock, particularly cattle. The research sought to characterise current levels and patterns of utilisation of arable land by livestock and how this land might be more effectively managed as a grazing resource and thereby improve levels of livestock production. Enormous variation was found in the contribution made by arable land allocations to cattle production systems in communal areas of this region. From a social perspective grazing management systems were found to depend largely on the availability of grazing resources. Where these were plentiful, control was exercised at a communal level although this tended to devolve to the individual level as grazing areas became overutilised. Considerable variation was also evident at the ecological level. Pasture quantity and quality was largely dependent on local ecotopes and land management strategies. This in turn exerted a strong influence on cattle foraging behaviour and the extent to which they could satisfy their nutritional intake requirements and thereby maintain bogy condition. Recommendations are advanced for improving cattle production systems, which take adequate account of the social and ecological heterogeneity of the central Eastern Cape region.