Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles

South Africa - part II

Tony Palmer and Andrew Ainslie

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The main forage resource for livestock in South Africa is rangeland grazing. In the higher rainfall zones crop residues are a very important feed supplement in the communal areas during the dry season when range grazing is scarce, while in the commercial areas some farmers plant fodder species. Irrigated fodder production is very limited owing to the lack of suitable soils and water supplies in the commercial areas. In times of drought, South Africa imports fodder from neighbouring countries.

5.1 Range grazing
The principal vegetation types of South Africa are illustrated in Figure 6 by this generalised image of the Acocks (1988) map of the Veld Types of South Africa. Acocks provided a unique perspective on the classification and distribution of the agro-economic divisions of vegetation in South Africa. This map serves to illustrate the broad floristic diversity of the South African vegetation. Acocks (1988) described the veld type as "a unit of vegetation whose range of variation is small enough to permit the whole of it to have the same farming potential", and he argued that it is possible to select relatively few species to serve as indicators of different vegetation types. The veld type concept has been used by  researchers and managers to define the units within which the results of experiments and grazing trials can be applied. This has resulted in a knowledge base within each veld type, much of which is captured in the "grey" unpublished literature.

It is well recognised that rainfall is the primary determinant of forage production, and a number of workers in Africa have demonstrated linear relationships between annual rainfall and primary production within the rainfall limits experienced in South Africa. These relationships can be simplified to straightforward expressions of kilograms of annual dry matter production of forage per millimetre of annual rainfall (Le Houerou, 1984).

An above-ground biomass production model based on the concept of rain-use-efficiency has been developed (Palmer 1998) and applied to rangeland. The resultant map for commercial production is provided (Figure 7). The production may be converted to carrying capacity by assuming a daily requirement of 11.25 kg dry matter per large stock unit, and a use factor of 0.4 (Le Houerou, personal communication). The use factor may decline to 0.2 in mesic grasslands with high C:N ratios.

There have been a number of debates on range grazing in southern Africa during the past 80 years, with the focus changing from the earlier perspectives of rangeland change due to desertification to more recent debates on the role of global climate change on the rangeland resources. Instead of re-phrasing the content of these debates, we have chosen to point readers at the appropriate of published text which synthesize these debates. Wherever possible, we point the reader to an electronic copy of the original text.

Following the earlier work of Ellis and Swift (1988) on the disequilibrium/equilibrium concept, there have been numerous articles which attempt to define the processes which lead to degradation of rangeland in southern Africa (Behnke and Scoones 1993, Behnke, Scoones & Kerven 1993, Galvin & Ellis 1996).In response to this debate, Illius & O'Connor (1999) have asked "When is grazing a major determinant of rangeland condition and productivity?" and conclude

"Spatial heterogeneity of resources, and particularly the seasonal separation of resource use, leads to the distinction between equilibrium and nonequilibrium areas. Equilibrium areas are those in which animals are in some sort of balance with their resources as a result of their dependance on them during the dry season. Climatic variation will cause this balance to fluctuate from year to year. Nonequilibrium areas support animals in the season of plant growth but the size of the animal population is not determined by these resources. It is on these nonequilibrium areas that variable and periodically high defoliation intensity may be imposed as a result of climatic variation causing fluctuations in the ratio of animal population size to resource abudance. Vegetation use in dry-season range is unlikely to suffer such impacts, because it is likely to be insensitive to defoliation during the dry season (Ash & McIvor 1998). Periodic intense defoliation is a consequence of climatic variation. Together with spatial localization of herbivore impacts, due to seasonal ranging behaviour and plant species and patch-level selection, this is likely to make these environments more, and not less, prone to ecological change. Ecologists and policy makers should seek to identify the characterstics of grazing systems that predispose some systems towards degradation, while others appear to be resistant" (extracted from Illius & O'Connor 1999)."

Following a detailed description of the impact of humans on the grazing resources of South Africa, Hoffman (1997) reports:

"Crop farmers first entered southern Africa along the northeastern coastal margins in or before the third century AD (Maggs 1984). Initially they survived on a mixed agricultural base of ‘slash-and-burn’ agriculture, hunting and marine mollusc collection augmented possibly by domestic sheep and goats (Maggs 1984; Hall 1987). At first only the vegetation around the coastal forest margins was cleared, but within a few hundred years descendants of these early farmers had moved westwards along river valleys and further southwards along the coast. The clearing of parts of the original forests and woodlands and subsequent cropland abandonment led, in the space of a few hundred years, to an increase in the extent of scrub and grassland habitats on the eastern coastal forelands and river valleys (Feely 1980). This may have facilitated the range expansion of a number of indigenous plants (e.g. many early-successional Acacia species) and animals (e.g. white rhinoceros) (Feely 1980). It also brought with it a shift in domestic livestock composition. The reliance of the Early Iron Age farmers on browsing animals such as goats changed fairly rapidly to an increasing dependence on a cattle-based economy that now thrived on the abundant grass- and scrubland mosaic created by this early slash-and-burn agriculture (Maggs 1984; Hall 1987). Recently, however, McKenzie (1989) has challenged this general model of increased grassiness following Iron Age occupation of the eastern seaboard. He argues that in the Transkei, Iron Age population densities would have been too low for their activities to have resulted in significant increases in the extent of grasslands.

Archaeological remains of Early Iron Age settlements are found almost exclusively within the savanna biome.

These farmers chose the valley bottoms to build their villages (Maggs 1984), preferring alluvial soils for their crops of sorghum, millet and cucurbits such as pumpkins, gourds and melons. Other ecological prerequisites affecting site location were an abundant supply of wood and adjacent pasturage for cattle (Maggs 1984). Although Early Iron Age agropastoralists owned livestock, they also relied on hunting to supplement their diets. Remains of hippopotamus, crocodile and especially fish are present at these early sites. Villages which generally contained a few hundred people and varied in size from 8 to 20 ha. enjoyed  a high level of self-sufficiency. Village density was surprisingly high, with one located every few kilometers (Maggs 1984).

The success of Early Iron Age farmers and their impact on the savanna landscape of the time was mainly due to their use of iron for a variety of agricultural and domestic purposes. Iron axes, for example, were essential for woodland clearing and iron hoes also increased the range of tillable soils (Hall 1987). Iron tools, such as adzes and hoes increased the efficiency of tilling the soils and tending and harvesting the millet, sorghum, cow pea and cucurbit crops. In fact, these Early Iron Age farmers were so successful that Huffman (1979, 1982) has suggested, albeit in an resolved and controversial hypothesis (Hall 1987), that it was population pressure and competition for resources that precipitated the north and westward migration of farmers across the Drakensberg escarpment into savanna lowland environments during the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries.

The manufacture of iron tools requires not only a good supply of iron ore but also an abundant supply of fuelwood to fire the furnaces and iron smelters. Van der Merwe & Killick (1979) have calculated that nearly 7000 trees (mostly hardwood such as Colophospermum mopane, Combretum imberbe and Terminalia sericea) would have been required to produce the 180 metric tons of slag produced from six furnaces at a site near Phalaborwa over ‘an arbitrary lifetime of 30 years’.

This extensive clearing of the bottomlands by Iron Age people for fuelwood, iron production and cultivation has left its mark on many savanna landscapes of today. In northern KwaZulu-Natal, for example as much as 70% of the area which currently forms part of the lowland nature reserve network may be derived directly from Iron Age land-use patterns (Feely 1980). The ‘wilderness model’ concept for these reserves has been questioned (Feely 1980; Granger et al. 1985), since a set of secondary successional pathways adequately explains the structure and composition of the contemporary vegetation. Clearing of the original closed deciduous woodland on the interfluves in the Eastern Transvaal lowveld by Late Iron Age farmers for iron smelting, construction materials and fuelwood purposes probably increased runoff and erosion rates (Feely 1980). This would have led to significant changes in the vegetation of vleis and marshes in drainage liens. The draining and subsequent runoff regimes from the interfluves, would have led to an invasion of these drainage lines by woody plants following their later abandonment (Feely 1980).

The transition from Early to Late Iron Age towards the end of the first millennium AD is marked by dramatic cultural, agricultural and economic developments with concomitant changes to the disturbance regime of the savanna and grassland biomes at both landscape and regional scales. First, settlement location shifted from bottomland sites to hilltops with a greater reliance on stone material for hut and perimeter wall construction (Maggs 1984; Hall 1989). Second, the interior, treeless grasslands, including those west of the escarpment, were colonized for the first time in the Late Iron Age. However, this spread was not uniform across the grassland biome. There were clear initial preferences for savanna/grassland biome ecotonal sizes where transhumance patterns presented a range of ecological bet-hedging strategies well suited to the agricultural economies of the time (Maggs 1984). Finally, during the Late Iron Age the earlier emphasis on self-sufficiency association of political power and wealth with cattle and the development of regional population centres with long-distance trade links (Hall 1987).

The increasing importance of cattle in the agricultural economy of the Late Iron Age led to a range of ecological problems. The rise and fall, in the ninth and fourteenth centuries, respectively, of a number of particularly well-developed economic centres in the Limpopo Basin (Hall 1987), and eastern Kalahari (Denbow 1984), provides evidence for the potentially devastating impact that these early farmers could have had on southern African savanna and grassland biome landscapes. The collapse in the fourteenth century of the Limpopo Basin state centred around Mapungubwe may have been as closely related to the deterioration of the grazing lands in the eastern Kalahari as to the shift in trade networks to more northerly centres in Great Zimbabwe (Denbow 1984); Maggs 1984; Hall 1987). These authors propose that the large cattle holdings of the settlements in the eastern Kalahari were crucial for supplying and maintaining the regional political centres in the Limpopo Basin. The deterioration of the grazing lands as a result of excessive grazing pressure resulted in a reduction of cattle numbers below that which was needed to maintain the regional trade and political networks.

The impact of Iron Age settlements, kraals and iron smelters appears widespread in savanna and grassland biome landscapes (Maggs 1984; Granger et al. 1985). Evidence of these early settlements remains and their impacts have contributed significantly to the level of patchiness and productivity in modern savanna landscapes (Scholes & Walker 1993). In the eastern Kalahari, for example, the productive and palatable blue buffalo grass Cenchrus ciliaris, is consistently associated with vitrified dung deposits of Iron Age, nineteenth century and modern kraal sites (Denbow 1979). The ability of C. ciliaris to tolerate high nitrate and phosphate levels as well as its dense, mat-forming growth habit preclude the establishment of surrounding arid savanna trees on old kraal sites. These grassy sites are easily discernible as ‘bald spots’ on aerial photographs and are common especially on hilltops, where they have not been destroyed by recent cultivation. The kraals are generally 50-150 m in diameter with vitrified and semi-vitrified dung deposits up to a metre deep, providing some indication of the extent of utilization of these arid savanna landscapes by Iron Age and recent agropastoralists (Denbow 1979).

One final example of the impact of Iron Age farmers on pre-colonial landscapes concerns the Difequane (the ‘scattering’, Hall 1987). The military conquests of Shaka Zulu and others during the early part of the nineteenth century resulted in mass regional displacement and political restructuring; especially within the eastern and northern parts of the subcontinent. Although, it is rejected by Hall (1987), there remains a popular perception (Barker et al. 1988) that the region underwent a rapid increase in human and cattle populations under the favourable climatic conditions of the late eighteenth century. This led ultimately to an ecological collapse during the series of severe droughts that occurred early in the nineteenth century. In the ensuing territorial conflict, particularly over the lowlands of KwaZulu-Natal (Maggs 1984), smaller clans and tribes were amalgamated within larger groups to form more effective armies and ultimately consolidated into a broader northern Nguni society under Shaka Zulu , who died in 1828.

In the aftermath of the Difequane the European colonists entered the largely depopulated grassland and savanna biomes from the 1830s onwards, adding further to the territorial displacement of some Iron Age farming communities and to the restructuring of land-use practices in the two biomes. Within a few decades much of the subregion had been either annexed or colonized, but not necessarily controlled by Europeans, and some entirely new impacts on the vegetation of the savanna and grassland biomes were introduced."

On the role of megaherbivores in the exacerbation of the  ‘bush encroachment’ problem, Hoffman (1997) reports:

"One of the first and most significant, albeit indirect, impact that the early colonists had on the grassland and savanna biomes was the decimation of indigenous herbivore populations and their replacement with a few species of domestic animals. Megaherbivores, such as elephant, rhinoceros and hippopotamus, and large grazing animals, such as wildebeest, hartebeest and zebra play key roles in a number of important population and ecosystem processes within the savanna and grassland biomes (Tinley 1977, Milchunas, Sala & Lauenroth 1988; Owen-Smith 1988; La Cock 1992). Their elimination is thought to have had catastrophic implications for the normal functioning of ecosystems within these two biomes (Grossman & Gandar 1989). Although Iron Age people had traded in ivory, rhinoceros horn and animal skins for centuries before the arrival of Europeans (Hall 1989), there are no indications that they had a major impact on the populations of southern Africa megaherbivores, since they lacked the weaponry suitable for mass slaughter. The colonists, however, had firearms and could draw on the hunting and tracking skills of local hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and agropastoralists (Gordon 1984) to supply the huge demand of international markets for animal products, especially ivory. Estimates suggest that there were more than 100 000 elephants in South Africa alone prior to the big-game hunter era in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but that by the end of 1920 there were fewer than 120 individuals left (Hall-Martin 1992). These were confined to just four small populations mostly in remote parts of the savanna biome. This historical removal of megaherbivores from the savanna landscape, the alteration of fire regimes, the reduced use of trees, and overgrazing, has been blamed for the general ‘bush-encroachment’ problem in the savanna biome today (Grossman & Gandar 1989). Of the approximately 43 million ha comprising the savanna biome in South Africa, bush encroachment has rendered 1.1 million ha unusable, threatens 27 million additional ha and has reduced the carrying capacity of much of the rest of the region by up to 50% (Grossman & Gandar 1989)."

On the subject of "overgrazing", Hoffman (1997) reports:

"Extensive livestock ranching is the most common agricultural practice in southern Africa; 84% of land in the savanna biome of South Africa is used for this purpose (Grossman & Gandar 1989). Despite the fact that, in South Africa, cattle, sheep and goat numbers during the last decade have been at their lowest level in 60 years."

As cultivation of new lands is a common practice and one which has a major impact on rangeland, it is pertinent that some of the debate is presented. Hoffman (1997) summarises the impact of human as follows:

"Of all modern agricultural practices, crop cultivation probably has the greatest impact on the terrestrial biota of a region. Not only is the relatively diverse cover and composition of natural vegetation replaced by one or a few alien species, but soil destruction and water nutrient additions further transform the environment. The total area under cultivation in South Africa in 1988 was around 130 000 km2 or about 10.6% of the land surface (Anon. 1994). This is very close to the 12 to 15% estimate of total potential arable land area in South Africa (Schoeman & Scotney 1987). Data from agricultural censuses show that there has been a steady increase in the area cultivated between 1911 and 1965, but that this has levelled off in the last two decades. This suggests that most of the productive lands have already been cultivated. Thus, any agricultural expansion of croplands in the future will encroach increasingly on economically and ecologically marginal environments, where yields are lower and environmental impacts, such as wind and water erosion, probably greater. The implications of these statistics in the light of the region’s 3.0% population increase are sobering.

Nearly half of the area cultivated in South Africa has been planted to maize and the savanna and grassland biomes have been most affected. Since 1985 there has been a general decrease in the area under maize. However, this decline probably reflects a shift in maize-growing areas to other, more profitable crops, and not necessarily land abandonment.

The commercial cultivation of sugarcane in KwaZulu-Natal has a long history dating to the late 1840s. By 1866 just over 3000 ha were under cultivation (Richardson 1985). There was a steady expansion of this industry until the late 1970s, whereafter the area under cultivation decreased. The greatest impact of sugarcane cultivation has been on the vegetation of the coastal lowlands of KwaZulu-Natal. No studies, however, have documented the impact of the sugar industry on these environments."
Extracted from Hoffman (1997).

Following a detailed surbvey of degradation patterns in South Africa for the National Desertification Audit, Hoffman & Ashwell (2000) conclude:

Soil degradation
The study considered both erosive and non-erosive forms of soil degradation and found that:

  • The problem is substantially worse in communal areas than in commercial farming areas.
  • Land use type and land tenure system are important predictors of soil degradation, although it is not necessarily the land tenure system itself which is to blame for the observed relatively high levels of degradation in the communal areas.
  • Steeply sloping land in the eastern parts of South Africa, in particular land that is now used primarily for grazing, is badly affected.
  • The Northern Province, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape are the provinces most badly affected by soil degradation.

Veld degradation
The study considered five main categories of veld degradation, namely, loss of cover, change in species composition, bush encroachment, alien plant invasions and deforestation. The most important findings are:

  • On the whole, veld is more degraded in communal areas than in commercial farming areas. However, in contrast to the case with soil degradation, the predominant land tenure system of a district appears not to be strongly related to the level of veld degradation. Degradation encroachment and alien plant invasions are, in general, worse in commercial districts than in communal districts.
  • Rural poverty and land use policies like ‘betterment’, which were only applied to communal areas, are closely correlated with veld degradation. In the first instance, poverty forces many people to rely on natural resources for their energy and food requirements, while in the second, policies such as ‘betterment’ diminished responsibility for sustainable management practices on the part of local land users.
  • Veld degradation is worst in the Northern Province and in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • The eastern Karoo is no longer perceived to be badly degraded by most agricultural experts. In fact, it appears to have benefitted considerably from the attention received as a result of the writings of people such as John Acocks in the middle of the 20th century.
  • The rate of veld degradation is decreasing in commercial districts, largely as a result of state intervention, strategies and schemes, while it is perceived to be increasing in communal districts.

Combined soil and veld degradation

  • When soil and veld degradation are considered together, communal areas are perceived to be significantly more degraded in general than commercial farming areas, although there are many exceptions.
  • Overall, land degradation is most severe in the Northern Province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. The problem is greatest in steeply sloping parts of the former Ciskei, Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal. On the whole, land degradation is perceived to be increasing (ie. The situation is getting worse) in communal districts.
  • The Northern Cape and Western Cape are the provinces with the most degraded commercial farming areas. In general, however, land degradation is perceived to be decreasing in commercial districts.

Factors influencing land degradation

Contrary to popular belief, environmental and climatic conditions in many of the former homelands are conductive to productive agriculture. The problem of land degradation is more closely linked to a complex and interacting suite of environmental, climatic, historical, political and socioeconomic factors. Areas with steep slopes, low annual rainfall and high temperatures seem particularly susceptible to high levels of degradation. Similarly, areas with high levels of poverty also appear more degraded than those where poverty indicators are less extreme.

Workshop participants agreed on a number of additional factors that have served to increase or decrease the levels of land degradation over the last ten years.

Reasons for improvements in the quality of land

  • adequate landholdings
  • government interventions, e.g. legislation, schemes and subsidies
  • agricultural extension services and better education
  • farmer self-organization and study groups
  • decrease in stock numbers
  • public pressure and a growing conservation ethic and awareness
  • electrification of rural and peri-urban settlements

Reasons for increased land degradation

  • inadequate landholdings
  • inappropriate or enforced land use planning, e.g. ‘betterment’
  • economic policies, e.g. the migrant labour system, tariffs, lack of incentives for farmers in commmunal areas
  • high population densities in rural areas
  • high stock numbers, especially when there is no control over their movement and grazing patterns
  • poverty.

Recommendations arising from this review include the following:

  • Many of South Africa’s communal areas are in dire need of attention. Intervention efforts should take account of the predictor variables and priority areas identified by this study and focus attention on these areas.
  • Sustainable agricultural models must be developed for South Africa’s communal areas that take account of their unique histories and biophysical as well as socioeconomic environments. The imposition of models developed for the commercial farming sector, as well as those from communal areas further north in Africa, are unlikely to prove successful combating degradation.
  • Research into land degradation must continue, particularly in South Africa’s communal areas. Many more case studies are needed to deepen our understanding of this complex issue and to help develop locally appropriate solutions. Success stories in which local solutions to combating desertification have occurred are urgently needed.
  • While ensuring redress in terms of the provision of support to the communal areas, sustainable land use practices must also be supported and maintained in the commercial farming areas in order to ensure food security for South Africa. The commercial farming sector is crucial for a productive future and should not be summarily abandoned.
  • The agricultural statistical service must be received and adequately supported to provide reliable data for planning in both commercial and communal areas.
  • Similarly, a strong agricultural extension service in both the communal and commercial farming areas is essential if land degradation is to be reversed. The extension service needs to be strengthened as a matter of urgency and well-trained and effective personnel need to be deployed in all areas of the country.
  • Agricultural planning must take account of the potential effects of global climate change and must be able to respond to short- and long-term changes in climate and vegetation. In particular the role of drought in affecting food security and livelihoods needs to be better understood and appropriate mitigating measures adopted.
  • A national review and map of the status of South Africa’s freshwater resources are urgently needed. Without this knowledge, any intervention strategy arising from the National Action Program (NAP) will be severely constrained.
  • In order to develop a NAP that remains relevant and responsive, ongoing monitoring of various aspects of land degradation is essential. Agricultural planning must be able to respond to variable changes in climate and vegetation, particularly in the light of global climate change. Specific monitoring needs to cover rainfall, soil erosion and veld degradation. The assessment of state interventions to combat desertification will provide vital direction for future action.
  • Public participation must be encouraged at all levels and efforts to combat land degradation must be better coordinated. The involvement of land users in decisions about their resources is essential if intervention strategies are to be successful" (Extracted from Hoffman & Ashwell 2001)

5.2 Introduced legumes and fodders

A number of sub-tropical pasture legumes and fodder plants have been screened at various sites from 100–700 mm annual rainfall. Probably the most successful example of introduced legumes has been the use of lucerne (Medicago sativa) , annual medics (M. polymorpha and A truncatula) and annual clover (Trifolium sp.) into the grain production systems of the Western Cape. Here the commercial grain producers (wheat, barley, oats) use these species as lay crops to elevate soil nitrogen every 2-3 years. These  crops reduce the risk of grain production, and at the same time provide forage for the small stock industry.

Range re-inforcement is conducted on a large scale in the commercial dairy regions of the country. Favoured grass species include Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu), Panicum maximum, Digitaria eriantha, while the legumes such as silver leaf (Desmodium spp) are oversown into natural rangeland.

Foggage production in South Africa is important in commercial beef and dairy production systems. Graziers use a wide range of commercially available local and imported grasses and legumes. The performance of growing beef steers grazing foggaged dryland Pennisetum clandestinum (kikuyu) pastures and given limited access (3 h d-1) to Leucaena leucocephala cv. Cunningham (leucaena) was better than that of steers grazing only kikuyu foggage during autumn and early winter (Zacharias et al 1991). Animals grazing leucaena performed better and gained 24.8 kg per animal more, over 90 days, than those on kikuyu alone. There is concern about the risk of leucaena becoming an invasive alien in the humid coast, and further encouragement of the use of this and other potentially aggressive species (e.g. Lespedeza sericea) has been discouraged until further evaluation has been carried out.

Investigations to determine whether frosted Kikuyu could supply quality foggage than natural pasturage in sourveld area during the winter months revealed that this grass was characterised by a crude protein content of 8 - 10% in the winter months. The performance of animals grazing such frosted Kikuyu was highly satisfactory (Rethman & Gouws, 1973). Sheep performance and patterns of herbage utilization were determined in two grazing trials involving different amounts and quality of kikuyu foggage. Wether lambs maintained livemass whereas dry ewes and wether lams both lost 8-10% of their initial mass, irrespective of differences in foggage quality. Grazing capacity was proportional to the yield of foggage and some 50% of the total herbage was utilized. The estimates of quality indicated that a higher level of utilization would have resulted in poorer sheep performance (Barnes & Dempsey1993).

5.3 Dryland fodder

Dryland fodder production is only possible in the higher rainfall regions of the country. The principal form of dryland fodder is cereal crop residues, and these make an important contribution to livestock diets in communal areas during the dry season. Some communal area farmers collect and store at least part of their residues to feed to selected animals such as milk cows and draft oxen, but most of the fodder is utilised in situ.

The cultivation of rainfed crops in South Africa is widespread, occurring in both commercial and communal land-use systems. The most significant commercial grain producing areas are the "maize triangle" of the central highveld, the wheat growing region of the south western Cape and the maize growing regions of central Kwa-Zulu Natal. Maize is widely preferred as the staple food in the communal areas, but millet and sorghum are more reliable crops except in the highest rainfall zones.  National cereal production (roughly 80% maize, 16% wheat  and 4% other including millet and sorghum) fluctuates considerably from year to year according to rainfall. Production has varied from a low of 5 044 000  Mt in the drought year of 1991/92 to a record high of 15 966 000 Mt in 1993/94.

In the drier central and western farmers commonly have small areas of drought tolerant fodder crops (Table 7) as drought reserve for exceptional circumstances.

Table 7. Exotic species which are used for fodder during exceptional circumstances.

Botanical name Common name


Agave americana American aloe Drought fodder in arid and semi-arid regions
Anthephora pubescens Wool grass Spring & summer grazing
Atriplex mueleri Australian saltbush Drought fodder
Atriplex nummalaria Old Man Saltbush Drought fodder
Atriplex semibaccata Creeping saltbush Drought fodder
Cenchrus ciliaris Blue buffalo grass Tufted perennial; spring, summer and autum grazing
Opuntia spp. Spineless cactus Live fencing + drought fodder
Opuntia ficus-indica Prickly pear Live fencing + drought fodder
Vigna unguiculata Cowpea Undersowing maize, millet or sorghum

5.4 Irrigated fodder

There are some eighty species of commercially available species and cultivars which are used in South Africa (Klug & Arnott 2000). Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is the main purpose grown irrigated fodder in South Africa, and is grown under irrigation throughout the country. Ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum and L. perenne) is cultivated on a large scale for pastures in the dairy industry. Many other species and numerous cultivars are available commercially and are provided in detail by Bartholomew (2000).

5.5 Imported fodder

In times of drought, the South Africa government traditionally assisted farmers in obtaining fodder by providing subsidies. According to the new drought policy (National Department of Agriculture, 1997), the fodder subsidies have been terminated in order to encourage farmers to build up their own forage reserves and to discourage them from retaining excessive stock numbers. Nonetheless, it is likely that some commercial farmers, and probably the government, will continue to import fodder in extreme drought conditions.

Table 8. Commercial cereal production for South Africa from 1992-2000 (x 1000 tons).



1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Maize 3277 9997 13275 4866 10171 10136 7693 7946 10584
Wheat 1324 1983 1840 1977 2711 2428 1787 1725 2122
Green corn 266 262 278 279 280 290 292 299 300
Barley 265 230 275 300 176 182 215 90 142
Groundnuts 132 150 174 117 215 157 108 163 169
Sorghum 118 515 520 290 535 433 358 223 352
Soybeans 62 68 67 58 80 120 200 174 148
Oats 45 47 37 38 33 30 25 22 25
Total Cereals 5044 12727 15966 7491 13647 13229 10098 10024 13244

5.6 Constraints to pasture and fodder production and improvement

The principal constraints to pasture and fodder production in communal areas are:

  • Low and uncertain rainfall throughout most of the country are the main constraints to the productivity of natural pastures and to the establishment of exotic pasture species.
  • Concern about exotics becoming problematic limits the introduction and testing of hardy species considered suited to the environmental and utilisation rigours of the communal areas (e.g Leucaena sp, Lespedeza serricea).
  • The availability and price of seeds for pasture/fodder improvement are major constraints to communal area farmers.
  • Considerable portions of the savanna vegetation types in the freehold farms are severely bush infested, but the costs of thinning/clearing generally outweigh the benefits in terms of increased carrying capacity.
  • The open access to rangeland grazing, at least within communities, in the communal areas necessitates broad collective agreement and cooperation in any pasture improvement venture.
  • Conventionally, communal area farmers do not retain exclusive use of their unfenced croplands after harvest for their own livestock, so limiting the opportunities and incentives for undersowing or alley cropping.

The principal constraints to pasture and fodder production in commercial areas are:

  • Low and uncertain rainfall.
  • Salinization of irrigable soils.
  • Declining water quality.


There is formal certification of pasture/fodder seed in South Africa.  South African seed merchants produce 16 Mt of forage seed per annum for sale locally (14.7 Mt) and export (1.3Mt). Total sales during 2000 were dominated by oats (4.4 Mt), forage sorghum (2.0 Mt), lupens (1.95Mt), triticale (1.55 Mt), annual rye grass (1.5 Mt) and teff (1.0 Mt).

With the long-term goal to preserve germplasm (in most cases, seeds) of the entire South African flora, the ARC-Range and Forage Institute's Genetic Resources Division in Pretoria focuses at present on preservation of seeds of plant species of economic importance. A wide variety of South African pasture grasses, e.g. of the genera Anthephora, Brachiaria, Cenchrus, Cynodon, Panicum, Pennisetum, Setaria and Stipagrostis are included in the current accessions.

One of the most important sources of funding for range improvement has come from the commercial sector which is involved in the rehabilitation of disturbed areas. The mining industry is required to rehabilitate dis-used mines, and have funded a number of projects to identify suitable genetic material for this purpose. The need to make these rehabilitated areas once again available for animal production has ensured that pasture species are favoured in this process. Favoured species for the selection of suitable material include members of the genera Panicum, Eragrostis, Cynodon and Cenchrus. Similarly, the revegetation of road verges, which is funded through the National Transport Commission, provides support for the collection and evaluation of grass species suitable for road verge stabilization. Although this does not directly affect forage species, it does provide funds for the establishment of collections of germplasm which can be used to identify possible forage plants. A dis-advantage of this process has been that genotypes of selected species have been spread throughout South Africa, impacting negatively on the genetic integrity of  the indigenous flora.

The need to satisfy the requirements of the developing farmer has encouraged the selection of multi-purpose species which are suitable for both human and animal consumption. In this instance, the cow pea (Vigna unguiculata), has been tested and improved to provide cultivars which are acceptable to both humans as a food source and as a valuable forage source to livestock.

The market for turf grass in South Africa has grown rapidly since the advent of democracy, as more of the national budget is spent on the provision of sport facilities for previously dis-advantaged communities. Once again the commercial sector has become a major source of funds to access and evaluate grass cultivars suitable for turf (mainly Cynodon and Pennisetum).

In the research sector, efforts have been made to identify species suitable for forage production in arid and semi-arid areas. Both breeding and selection has been successful in the improvement of Anthephora sp.


7.1 Institutional structure

The National Department of Agriculture within the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Affairs is the key institution dealing with forage resources. The National Department of Agriculture is divided into five directorates, one of which deals directly  with rangeland and pasture resources. The Directorate Land and Resource Management is responsible for the implementation of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 43 of 1984. This act empowers the head of the directorate to intervene when the agricultural resources of the country are threatened.  Prior to 1994 this act was used to subsidise the provision of fencing, erection of new  water provision points, the purchase and transport of supplementary fodder during exceptional circumstances, and the clearing of all weeds (alien and indigenous).

Each of the nine provinces also has a section or directorate which deals with rangeland and pasture research.

South Africa’s National Agricultural Policy states the main objective to be improvement of research in natural resource management (Anonymous 1996). On a project basis, pasture science related programmes deal with rangeland reclamation, carrying capacity, agro-forestry and rangeland management systems. Examples of individual on-going projects related to rangeland and pasture science may be found at the ARC web site.

The National Department of Education maintains seven agricultural colleges and carries out topic-oriented, formal training courses. All courses are certified by one of the tertiary training institutions.

Botanical research relating to rangeland is also conducted by the National Botanical Institute of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Outside of government, the most significant organisation involved in rangeland research is the Agricultural Research Council's Range and Forage Institute, which conducts research on rangeland and pasture resources. Research direction in the ARC-RFI is determined by the needs of the National Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, as well as other research clients. The Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) is the professional organization representing the discipline in South Africa.  The GSSA maintains a full-time secretariat for its members, organizes an annual congress at various localities around the sub-continent, and has published a peer-reviewed journal (African Journal of Range & Forage Science) annually since 1966.

7.2 Personnel

The key organisations/individuals and their current areas of activity/interest with relevance to pasture science are as follows:

Directorate Land and Agricultural Resource Managment, National Department of Agriculture & Land Affairs, Private Bag X120, Pretoria 0001.
Tel: +27-12-3197545

Mr Bonga Msomi, Director, Directorate Agricultural Land Resource Management: range management, bush encroachment, range rehabilitation

Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism,responsible for reporting on the state of South African rangelands for the International Conventions (Convention for the Combatting of Desertification, Biodiveristy Convention)

Agricultural Research Council - Range & Forage InstitutePrivate Bag X05, Lynn East,0039 South Africa.
Fax: +27-12-8082155
Tel: +27-12-8419611

Dr A. Aucamp, Director, ARC - Range & Forage Institute

Dr R. Ellis, Head, ARC-RFI Genetic Resources Division: germplasm collection of indigenous flora and dryland crop and fodder species

National Botanical Institute
Private Bag X7, Claremont 7735  Fax: +27-21-7998800

Prof B. Huntley, Director

Prof. G. Smith, Deputy-Director: maintaining national herbarium

Dr MC Rutherford, Co-ordinator, VEGMAP Project: revising the vegetation map of South Africa

Provincial Department of Agriculture
There are 9 provincial Departments of Agriculture, and each provides some support for rangeland managment and condition assessment.

Educational Institutions
Graduate and post-graduate level training in rangeland science and related disciplines is provided at the following institutions:

Potchefstroom University
Rand Afrikaans University
Rhodes University
Stellenbosch University
University of Cape Town (UCT)
University of Durban - Westville (UDW)
University of Fort Hare
University of Natal (Durban) (UN)
University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg)
University of the North
University of the North West
University of the Orange Free State
University of Port Elizabeth
University of Pretoria (Tuks)
University of Transkei
University of Venda (UNIVEN)
University of the Western Cape
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits)
University of Zululand

Border Technikon
Cape Technikon
Eastern Cape Technikon
Mangosuthu Technikon
ML Sultan Technikon
Peninsula Technikon
Port Elizabeth Technikon
Technikon Free State
Technikon Natal
Technikon Northern Gauteng
Technikon North West
Technikon Pretoria
Technikon SA
Technikon Witwatersrand
Vaal Triangle Technikon

Agricultural Colleges

Fort Cox Agricultural College

Cedara Agricultural College
Middelburg Agricultural College
Glen Agricultural College
Elsenburg Agricultural College
Tsolo Agricultural College

Professional Organizations

Grassland Society of Southern Africa
South African Institute of Ecologists
Wildlife Management Association of South Africa


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A special booklet entitled "Rangeland Resources: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe" was prepared for the VIIth International Rangeland Congress, held in Durban, South Africa 26 July - 1 August, 2003.

For information on pasture and fodder production and management: 

Director, ARC-Range & Forage Institute 

For information on South African flora: 

Director, National Botanical Institute  

Prepared by Tony Palmer and Andrew Ainslie in May 2002; livestock data updated by S.G. Reynolds in August 2006.

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