Friday, May 18, 2007

Namibia: How improved farming skills can help cheetahs

Wezi Tjaronda
New Era (Windhoek)

16 May 2007
Posted to the web 16 May 2007

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is in the process of developing additional training courses that deal with all aspects of livestock farming.

The courses are in response to the need for a structured approach to livestock farming which includes financial management, marketing of livestock and the sustainable utilization of wildlife within the conservancy framework.

The approach of using agricultural training as a vehicle to integrate biodiversity conservation into the livestock farming system is a powerful tool in building a positive relationship between farmers and the fragile environment whose end result is to improve sustainable production, according to Agra and the CCF.

Last week, farm workers and farmers from the north and south of the veterinary cordon fence joined forces to improve their farming skills and knowledge during the Agra/CCF Practical Farming Course.

The group, which included five women, tackled herd and pasture management to improve sustainable production.

Despite operating in different production systems, the group found that they face common challenges, as they establish themselves and begin to contribute significantly to Namibia's agricultural economy.

In their day-to-day farming, farmers face problems relating to low calving percentages, poor cattle conditions, paying for their farm inputs, generating high proceeds from the farming enterprise on a sustainable basis, and losses of livestock to predators and disease.

G√ľnther Roeber, Consultant and Trainer in Livestock Farming and Management, explained to New Era yesterday that some of the reasons for a low calving percentage were the bull to cow relation, parasites, as well as lack of supplements and vitamins. The course also emphasizes the benefits of giving supplements to animals.

Most farmers, he added, also face problems that relate to the availability of grazing, especially relating to the herd size and adapting the herd to the available grazing.

In addition to livestock production, the implications of human-wildlife conflict, especially with specific reference to predators, are a hot topic among farmers.

Although the CCF's primary objective is to ensure the survival of the free-ranging cheetah, an endangered species that plays a key role in the fragile farmland ecosystem, including directly contributing to the sustainability of Namibia's livestock sector, this can only be achieved in partnership with Namibian farmers and all other people living and working on the farmland.

This would require all stakeholders to adopt a more integrated approach, which accommodates Namibians' well-being, to maintain all natural resources and ecosystems, as well as to make farming enterprises financially viable.

Last year, the CCF hosted 12 training courses for 300 communal and emerging commercial farmers which focused on, among other topics, integrated livestock and predator management.

Of these courses, four were conducted by the CCF for emerging commercial farmers and included topics on cattle husbandry, herd management, disease and vaccination programmes, identification of animals killed by predators and basic conservation training on the role and value of predators.

The CCF and Agra said in a press statement that most participants had not been previously exposed to information on the ecological or economic benefits of predators. Participants said their innate fear of predators and lack of knowledge often resulted in predators being killed needlessly in the past, and that they would consider livestock management options to solve losses to predators in the future.

The inter-disciplinary approach taken by the course sponsors, to improve productivity while tackling human-wildlife conflict, has been very well received at all five courses attended by 113 farm workers and farmers, the statement said.

In April, the two institutions held yet another course for farm workers. To date, four courses have been presented to 90 farm workers and farmers, especially targeting role-players that are usually excluded from similar programmes due to literacy and language barriers.

The courses aim at equipping farm workers with relevant practical knowledge required to efficiently and effectively manage the livestock farming operation and natural resources on a sustainable basis.

In the end, participants are expected to become aware of the farming environment they operate in, understand basic farming principles and concepts, play an important role in the improvement of production of the farming enterprise and also regard themselves as proud producers who directly or indirectly contribute to the welfare of Namibia and its people.

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