Okavango voice farmers resist communal cattle ranching
Cultural taboos stand in the way of developing communal cattle herds in Habu area as farmers are said to be resisting the new progressive conservation initiative by a Village Development Trust.
According to the project’s coordinator, Tiego Mpho of Wild Entrust, a NGO that manages Habu Elephant Trust’s projects, trust issues are slowing them down in their ultimate goal of taking over Habu cattle herds that currently stand at over 10,000 for a commodity based trade project.
“They have cultural taboos that are preventing them from giving us all of their livestock. Some say they can only give us animals which are destined to the abattoir to go to the communal herd but not all of them, and that is a big challenge for us,” said Mpho.
While some tribes are known to set their religious fire in front of their kraals where they worship in the presence of their cattle, Mpho maintains that with time, they will understand and appreciate the benefits of a communal herd.
The idea behind communal herds according to Mpho, is to demonstrate commodity based trade by assisting communities in and around Habu to produce free range and grass fed organic and wildlife friendly beef.
Situated in Western side of Okavango Delta, which is a wildlife protected area, Habu is a place where people, domestic and wild animals co-exist. It has been marked by government as a red zone area due to common outbreaks of foot and mouth disease which has put farmers in that area at a disadvantage.
Through communal herds, the Trust seeks to implement a grazing plan, have all livestock vaccinated at the same time and protected from wild animal attacks.
Mpho has maintained that parents communal herds could also improve the quality of the farmers because after surrendering their cattle to the project, farmers can spend more time caring for their children and focusing on their education rather than staying in farms to herd cattle.
“They will have full access to their livestock. They would have access to milk them or go with the rangers if they want to follow them to grazing areas. Their livestock still belongs to them, the only difference is that the Trust hires scouts to herd them,” Mpho further explained.
The communal herds can be achieved through clusters and Mpho added that so far they have just around 300 cattle per cluster out of thousands whose owners do not want to take part in the project.
“This makes it difficult to operationalize the grazing plan and they are aware of that,” added Mpho who maintained that so far they are engaging Banderu and Herero farmers who are known to own big herds.
“We believe that with time the people will earn our trust and will see the importance of being part of the project,” Mpho said.
The communal herd objective is to improve on Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBRM) by coming up with a conservation agreement and an action plan to promote conservation in exchange for incentives for the community.
‘It will be signed by us as mediators and the community so it is therefore concrete. It brings accountability and predictability to conservation and that is the improvement we are bringing,”said Mpho.
Due to involvement of trained scouts and rangers in the area poaching in Habu is known to have dropped to zero in the past three years.