Clarissa Hughes

Averting the 6th Extinction

Things are aquiver on the Plains of the Karoo. There’s a buzz in the air that belies its bucolic atmosphere.

 In an area where the ancestors are renowned for their willfulness the cause of the hubbub is surprising because it’s all about custodianship and caring.

 What’s happening is this: the farmers of the Camdeboo are collaborating with the Wilderness Foundation and SAN Parks to preserve their land for future generations. Situated in the Karoo, a semi-desert area in South Africa where the consequences of relentless land exploitation are deadly and where fossils from the Permian extinction abound, it’s a match made in heaven.

The Mountain Zebra-Camdeboo Corridor Project’s objectives include enabling landowners to take collective action to conserve biodiversity and to seek legal recognition thereof. It also aims to protect areas sensitive to development and to maintain the current landscape which has generally, through current management, favoured its biodiversity value.

 With a total project footprint of 530,000 hectares its importance is not to be sneezed at.

 Entirely voluntary there are three levels of agreement that private landowners can enter:

  •  The Proud Partner agreement is a loose relationship by which landowners receive advice about best practice in habitat management. There is also the potential for marketing opportunities (e.g. mutton to consumers).
  •  The Protected Environment agreement offers a higher degree of protection against mining and prospecting. Where land is gazetted as protected the approval of more than one government ministry is required to explore for, or extract, underground resources.
  •  A Contractual Park offers the highest level of protection as no mining or prospecting is permitted. There is the added advantage that commercial ecotourism and wildlife operations can be run as part of the national park.

While a parcel of land may not be suitable for one kind of agreement it should be able to find a match in another. One of the umbrella benefits that apply to all three is assistance and support from SAN Parks’ Biodiversity Social projects (e.g. Working for Water, Working on Land).

 “We have 120 000 hectares ready for declaration and this is just phase one of the project. Local farmers have welcomed the initiative as they can see how beneficial it is to them,” says Bronwyn Botha, Project Manager.

 Trenly Spence, who farms Nguni cattle and indigenous goats, explains: “We have to become more conservation minded if we want the land to continue providing for us. The corridor project is a vehicle to get there.”

 Multi-generational farmers have a considerable investment in the land they husband, one that is not merely financial, but provides them with a sense of belonging and endowment. “There’s a lot of financial pressure on farmers. If the veld is in good condition there’s a possibility for future generations to broaden their income base into tourism, ” Spence says.

 Inspired by the prudency of the initiative farmers outside the project area are also keen to join. 

 Yet there’s more to it than doing the sensible. From a personal perspective Spence says that he gets enormous satisfaction seeing ‘his veld’ recover. “Species that were absent have returned. It gives me great pleasure to guide this land into a better condition.”

 Farming the Karoo is not for sissies. As Spence explains: “It’s tricky to conserve land and make a living but it can be done. You can be a stock farmer and a conservationist. It makes absolute sense to be both.”

With the evidence of the Fifth Great Extinction littering the plains of the Camdeboo it appears that Karoo farmers are acutely aware of the importance of maintaining the biological balance.

 

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