Assessment of veld utilisation practices and veld condition in the Little Karoo
The veld condition in the Little Karoo is in various states of degradation and grazing by domestic livestock is considered as the major anthropogenic force that changed the landscape. This region with its extremely rich plant species diversity and endemics, has supported small livestock for at least 2 000 years, and since colonization (250 years ago) been intensively used for the production of a variety of livestock. Ostrich production developed as the major source of income for this region. The first part of this study investigates the current veld management practices employed by livestock farmers in the Little Karoo region. Recommended veld management practices considered in this study are grazing rotation, moderate stocking rate control, moderate veld utilisation, separation of ecotopes, veld rehabilitation, controlling declared weeds and alien vegetation and regular assessment of veld condition. One hundred randomly selected farmers were personally interviewed by means of a structured questionnaire. Questions were grouped into the following categories: (a) demography of farmers, (b) ostrich farming, (c) perceptions and knowledge of farmers on farming practices, (d) grazing rotation, (e) stocking rate, (f) veld utilisation and veld assessment, (g) separation of ecotopes, (h) veld rehabilitation, (i) control of alien vegetation and (j) farmers’ knowledge on legislation. This was used to obtain information on the Little Karoo farming community, sizes of farms and camps, types of farming enterprises and on adoption of recommended veld management practices in the region. The main findings from this section are that relatively small farming units with few camps, poor separation of ecotopes and a low estimated grazing capacity, limit extensive livestock farming within the region. Perceptions of farmers on veld condition, grazing rotation, stocking rate, separation of ecotopes are fairly optimistic. As a result grazing capacities are overestimated and overstocking occurs within this region. The current stocking rate in ostrich camps (67.7% overstocked) and mammalian livestock camps (55.1% overstocked) is evidence that farmers overstock to compensate for these limiting factors in order to make a living from the land. The majority of farmers are well aware of the Articles in the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act of 1983, which are applicable to veld management. Only more that 50% comply with this legislation by rehabilitating veld and 80% of them control invasive alien species on their farm. In the second part, veld assessments were done in randomly selected veld camps, using the multi-criterion, semi-subjective Quick Rangeland Health Assessment (QRHA) Method. Veld condition was significantly poorer closer to water or feeding points due to the piosphere effect caused by livestock. Veld condition in the Little Karoo can be related to altitude, vegetation types and land use. Therefore, the lowlying Little Succulent Karoo vegetation type is in a poorer condition compared to Spekboom Succulent Thicket and South and South-west Coast Renosterveld. Ostrich production on plains in the Little Succulent Karoo vegetation type is the main cause for the degradation of this vegetation type. It would seem as if historically high stocking rates cannot be ignored in explaining the current veld condition. A positive correlation between veld condition and the diversity of plant species (species density) were found, which highlights the importance of good veld management practices in sustainable agriculture. The third part tested whether all indicators in the QRHA method are equally sensitive and whether there is a positive correlation between the QRHA method and the Grazing Index Method. A significant positive linear correlation was found between the two methods. Cover was the least sensitive indicator of rangeland condition, and livestock induced disturbances (which include the indicators grazing intensity, disturbance indicators, soil health and species richness) were the most sensitive for Karoo veld assessment. A major benefit of the QRHA method is heuristic; therefore this method may have value in agricultural extension work.