Farming and conservation: How the two can go hand-in-hand

Farming and conservation: How the two can go hand-in-hand

In most cases, “conservation” typically means putting up a fence around the animals you wish to protect. But that’s not the best way of doing things – especially in a world where there’s pressure not only on our biodiversity, but also on farmers to provide food for a nation, says Ross Kettles, project manager at the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).

“The ideal is to get farmers involved in conservation and work with them,” he says.

That’s exactly the model introduced in the NWMSA – where farmers realised the value of their natural land, and together sought ways to protect these multi-use landscapes as a collective. The NWSMA includes 47 000 hectares between the towns of Bredasdorp, Struisbaai and Elim. Around half of this is agricultural land. The other half is Critically Endangered and Endangered fynbos and renosterveld, and wetlands and rivers that provide water to downstream towns.

The importance of the natural world here is seen in its location: the NWSMA borders on the Agulhas National Park on the one side, the De Mond Nature Reserve (a Ramsar site) on the other side, and the Napier Mountain Conservancy to the north. But the NWSMA is in private hands, made up of 25 farmers who still use the productive lands to make a living, farming with grain, livestock, and viticulture.

Biodiversity is under pressure

Kettles says, “As the world population gets bigger and bigger, there is more stress placed on biodiversity. But in our model that we’re testing here, agriculture and conservation go hand-in-hand. The farmers have employed a team of conservationists to protect the natural areas – and we’re undertaking big restoration and rehabilitation projects. But our members continue with their sustainable farming operations.”

In fact, the NWSMA, situated in the Overberg, is an important contributor to the Western Cape’s agricultural sector. While there are no statistics available on NWSMA farming contributions, the Overberg’s primary agricultural sector contributed 9% to the province’s GDP, making it the second largest agricultural region. Landowners also provide employment to hundreds of people close to Africa’s southernmost tip.

But how does agriculture benefit from conservation?

Kettles says that globally the trend is turning, to realise that food security is directly dependent on the protection of biodiversity. This is backed up by the first-ever global report on the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture, published in 2019 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

Biodiversity for food and agriculture includes all the plants and animals that provide us with food, but also stretches beyond that. The FAO report explains that “associated biodiversity” – meaning other plants, animals, and microorganisms that “support food production through ecosystem services” – is just as important. As part of the ecosystem, these organisms help combat pests and diseases that could affect crops and livestock. They also assist air and water purification, promote soil fertility, and help pollinate plants.

The report warns that once this biodiversity is lost, it cannot be recovered.

Kettles agrees with this: “Biodiversity is not just animals – it’s also insects, which include pollinators. A lot of people forget that we humans are also a species. We also rely on these organisms to survive as a species.”

Nature is not bound to boundaries

At the same time, biodiversity also makes use of the agricultural lands in the NWSMA – given that large sections of the wildlife move over natural and agricultural lands and are not controlled by boundaries.The full article is for subscribed members only. To view the full article please subscribe. It’s FREE!Log In Register

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