Studies of the management of grazing resources on the Makatini Flats and Pongolo River Floodplain.
Buchan, Alastair James Charles.
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Subsequent to the impounding of the Pongolo river in the 1970's, development of irrigated agriculture on the Makatini flats has been reducing the area of vegetation available for grazing, and flooding patterns on the seasonally inundated Pongolo River Floodplain have been determined by the controlled release of water from the Pongolapoort dam. About 50 000 people live along the 10 000 ha floodplain within the 63 000 ha northern region of the flats which was studied. This population includes 2 970 registered cattle owners who own a total of 19 300 cattle. The objectives of this study were: to gain an understanding of the Makatini pastoral system which would facilitate prediction of the effects of potential developments, including agricultural expansion, modification of floodplain hydrology and changed cattle management practices on the utility value of cattle; and to provide guidelines for the management of pastoral resources on the Makatini and other traditional African pastoral systems. It was established that the value of cattle cannot be determined without understanding the importance of the subsistence utilities provided and that the value of utilities relative to each other influences the way in which the system is stocked and managed by the local people. The value of all marketed and non-marketed utilities was determined and the implications of the economic evaluation for the identification of management options in African pastoral systems assessed. Despite the "low productivity" of the Makatini system compared to western style ranches, cattle owners receive annual returns worth approximately 100 % of the asset value of their stock. This explains low market offtake rate in this and other subsistence systems. Non-marketed utilities, particularly milk production provide most of the returns to cattle owners. The mean stocking density on the floodplain vegetation was estimated to be three times that of dry-land areas, but only 23 % of all grazing time is spent on the floodplain. Although floodplain forage provides an important supplement to winter grazing, its use is not vital to maintenance of animal condition. The coincident occurrence of an annual "stress period"; greater acceptability of Echinochloa pyramidalis vegetation as forage; the absence of floods; and the reduced use of floodplain fields, results in increased floodplain use in winter to a stocking density approximately ten times that of dry-land areas. How the floodplain hydrology, rainfall and grazing interact with the crop growth rate and quality of E. pyramidalis stands was examined. The forage production potential of E. pyramidalis was found to be higher than that of other floodplain vegetation types and stocking densities of up to 4.5 AU/ha in summer and 2.5 AU/ha in winter are considered possible on the Pongolo floodplain. Echinochloa pastures may become wet and cause scouring if grazed exclusively, but grazing reduces plant moisture content and makes the forage more acceptable. Local pastoral management was found to depend on the collective activities of cattle owners in pursuit of personal needs in a dynamic socio-economic context. Motivation for the manipulation of cattle numbers and herd composition is dictated by a cattle owner's perception of his needs for utilities and his ability to access those benefits. Because of this, the pastoral practices were found to be closely linked to other socio-economic activities such as agriculture and migrant labour. stock owners have a narrow perspective of pastoral resource management and use strategies developed on small spatial and temporal scales. In contrast development planners tend to identify objectives on a regional scale and on long-term (10 - 50 year) time scales and to orient management towards maximising the value of marketable utilities and preventing long-term overstocking. Management of pastoral resources in traditional African systems requires that the needs of local people be met, that the resource base be maintained; that pastoral policy be developed as a component of regional development planning and that close liaison between interest groups be maintained. Failure to establish or maintain this liaison is considered the main reason for the failure of many African pastoral development programmes. It was recommended that local pasture management committees be established on the Makatini and that extension officers, trained specifically to understand management problems of Third World pastoral systems, be used to maintain liaison between stock owners and development planners. It was also suggested that formal cattle camps be established and managed by local people and that at least one flood (river flow> 200 cumecs) be released from the Pongolapoort darn each summer.