Pastoralists' perceptions and realities of vegetation change and browse consumption in the northern Kalahari, Namibia
Pastoral production around artificial watering points in semi-arid environments affects the density and composition of plant communities. In the Kalahari desert of southwestern Africa, bush encroachment is often regarded as the major form of land degradation resulting from pastoral production around watering points. We investigated the OvaHerero pastoralists' perceptions of the extent of vegetation change since the establishment of artificial watering points in the northern Kalahari desert of Namibia, and related this to ecological data on vegetation change. We determined the utility of woody vegetation to pastoralists' livelihoods in terms of provision of construction material, fuel wood and browse. We quantified local knowledge of cattle browse consumption and correlated this with field data. We also assessed the purposes for which major livestock types were used. Our results showed that: (1) pastoral knowledge of bush encroachment and browse consumption was consistent with concurrently collected field data, (2) the current level of bush encroachment was perceived to be beneficial for pastoral production, and (3) cattle played an important role in the production of milk and milk by-products for domestic use, and served as a source of cash income, while sheep and goats were primarily kept for meat consumption. This result contrasts with historical studies that mainly portray cattle as a symbol of social status among OvaHerero pastoralists. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.