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DESERTIFICATION

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LAND DEGRADATION IN COMMERCIAL

AND

COMMUNAL AREAS OF SOUTH AFRICA

PRELIMINARY RESULTS FROM A RAPID PARTICIPATORY APPRAISAL

by
Timm Hoffman 1, Lehman Lindeque 2, Zolile Ntshona 3 & Simon Todd 1

1.National Botanical Institute

2.Directorate Resource Conservation

3.Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of Cape Town

Published as: "Proceedings of the Desert Margins Programme Workshop-Appropriate Restoration Technologies in South Africa- held in Potchefstroom, 23-26 March 1998"

Abstract

South Africa has signed and ratified the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and as part of its obligation, aims to develop a National Action Programme (NAP) to address the problems of land degradation in the country. As a first step into this path, a national assessment of the problem needs to be conducted. This paper presents the results of a rapid appraisal of land degradation in South Africa, conducted between May 1997 and March 1998 in the 35 agricultural regions of the country and involving more than 400 agricultural professionals. The information was gathered during a series of participatory workshops, in which a structured data sheet was used to understand land use practices and to assess the extent of soil and vegetation degradation in each of the magisterial districts in the region. A total of 367 magisterial districts were assessed, 71% of which are managed under a commercial and 29% under a communal land tenure system. Although values range widely from district to district, in terms of area, the three most important Land Use Types (LUT’s) are grazing lands, croplands and settlement areas. On average, they occupy about 56%, 25% and 12% respectively of each magisterial district. Commercial forests, conservation areas and other forms of land use (e.g. mines, lakes) comprise, on average, a relatively small area (<3% of each magisterial district) Although there has been a slight decrease in the area used for crops in both commercial and communal areas, the most important changes in the area over the last 10 years, has been the decrease in commercial, and especially communal grazing lands, and an increase in settlement areas. Communal grazing lands have also experienced a decrease in land use intensity over the last 10 years as a result of stock theft and a general collapse of infrastructure. In general, workshop participants felt that soil degradation is highest in the grazing lands, croplands and settlement areas in each magisterial district and that these values were on average two to four times higher in communal than commercial areas. However, it is the communal areas, which occupy the steep slopes along the escarpment of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Province which are most degraded. Vegetation degradation is not as tightly coupled to land tenure system as soil degradation. Alien plant invasions and bush encroachment are both problems of commercial rangelands. The eastern Karoo, which has formed the focus of several previous investigations into land degradation in South Africa, has emerged as relatively undergraded in this analysis. When the Soil Degradation Index and Vegetation Degradation Index are summed to form a Combined Degradation Index, several key areas of degradation in the country are evident. The steeply sloping areas along the eastern escarpment incorporating the communal areas of the former Ciskei, Transkei and KwaZulu emerge as some of the most degraded areas in South Africa. Magisterial districts along the eastern coastal regions, however, do not appear as severely degraded. Parts of the Northern Province, the Northwest Province and the Northern Cape are also perceived as being severely degraded. When analysed on a provincial basis, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Province emerge as the two provinces with the highest number of degraded magisterial districts followed by the Eastern Cape and the Northwest Province. Gauteng and the Free State were perceived as being least degraded by people who participated in our survey. Commercial areas have benefited greatly from numerous legislative acts, state subsidy schemes and awareness-raising and education campaigns over the last century. These appear to have been beneficial in assisting commercial farmers to combat land degradation. The same level of state involvement has not occurred in the communal areas. A two-pronged approach is thus advocated. Continued support of the commercial sector to maintain current levels of land degradation control is essential. However, a major initiative is necessary if the problems of the long-neglected communal areas are to be addressed. It is hoped that the National Action Programme to Combat Desertification will lead the way.

Introduction

In January 1995 South Africa became a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) and ratification followed soon after in September 1997. The CCD is one of a number of International Conventions arising out of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Develoment (UNCED) (the "Rio Conference") in 1992. As part of its obligations under the CCD, the South African government will develop a National Action Programme (NAP) to combat desertification. This process will be co-ordinated initially by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, but probably implemented by the National Department of Agriculture.

The initial phase of the development of a NAP requires a broad-based national assessment of the status and extent of land degradation in South Africa. This is to inform policy makers and state and provincial departments of the priority issues concerned and areas affected by land degradation in South Africa.

Existing perspectives of land degradation in South Africa, derived from global syntheses, are contradictory and have not as yet been evaluated by local experts in the field. Also, the wealth of expertise that exists within the agricultural research and extension services has seldom been used to develop an assessment of land degradation in South Africa. It was therefore our aim to harness this relevant expertise within each of the provinces and to consult as widely as possible.

There were four main objectives in this rapid appraisal of the status of land degradation in South Africa:

  • To determine the main land use practices and trends occurring in each of the 367 magisterial districts in South Africa;
  • To compile a map showing the magisterial districts most affected by soil degradation and to determine the reasons for this;
  • To complete a map showing the magisterial districts most affected by veld degradation and to determine the reasons for this;
  • To bring groups with different backgrounds (pasture and range scientists, soil scientists, extension officers from communal and commercial areas, soil conservation committees, etc.) together to develop a shared vision for land degradation in South Africa.

We have adopted a comparative approach in our analysis and compare the results of our study for areas managed under a commercial land tenure system with those from areas managed under a communal land tenure system.

Approach

One workshop was held in each of the 35 agricultural regions in South Africa between May 1997 and March 1998. Each workshop lasted from four to six hours and a total of more than 400 people attended the workshops. The majority of the participants were either agricultural extension officers or resource conservation technicians. Soil Conservation Committee members, agricultural or ecological researchers and nature conservation officers were also present on occasion. The approach adopted for the workshops was similar to that used in the Global Map of Human-Induced Soil Degradation (GLASOD) project (UNEP 1991). However, we modified the method somewhat to suit our own needs (see Appendix 1 for an example of our data sheet). Extensive open discussions were held with all workshop participants prior to magisterial district assessment so as to calibrate the varied and differing perceptions of land use and land degradation. Photographs and extended text summaries were also used to assist in the calibration process.

The exercise was divided into three main components (Appendix 1). The first concerned land use practices in each magisterial district. Six Land Use Types (LUT) were identified (Croplands, Grazing lands or Veld, Commercial Forests, Conservation or State lands, Settlements and Other (e.g. mines, lakes)). Workshop participants, with particular knowledge of their magisterial district, were asked to determine:

  • The proportion of the magisterial district held under commercial or communal land tenure systems, expressed as a percentage of the entire district;
  • The area of each Land Use Type (LUT) within a district, expressed as a percentage of the entire district;
  • Whether the area for each LUT has increased or decreased over the last 10 years and reasons for the change;
  • Whether the intensity of land use had increased or decreased over the last 10 years and reasons for the change.

The second component of the exercise concerned soil degradation in the magisterial district (Appendix 1). Participants were asked to determine for their magisterial district:

  • The two or (rarely) three main types of soil degradation in each LOT;
  • The degree of soil degradation in each LUT (1 =light, 2 =moderate, 3 =strong,
  • 4 =extreme);
  • The relative extent of soil degradation in each LUT, expressed as a percentage class;
  • The severity class (read from the severity class table in Appendix 1);
  • The rate of soil degradation that has occurred over the last 10 years (0 =no change, +1 = slightly increasing, +2 = moderately increasing, -1 = slightly decreasing, -2 moderately decreasing).

The main reasons for soil degradation in each of the magisterial districts were discussed and a soil degradation index (SDI) was then calculated for each district as:

S (LUT Degradation Severity Class + LUT Degradation Rate) * % Area of LUT)

The final component of the exercise concerned veld degradation in the magisterial district (Appendix 1). Participants were asked to determine for their magisterial district:

  • The two or (rarely) three most important types of veld degradation in the grazing lands only;
  • The degree of veld degradation in the grazing lands (1 = light, 2 = moderate, 3 = strong, 4 = extreme)
  • The relative extent of veld degradation in the grazing lands, expressed as a percentage class;
  • The severity class (read from the severity class table in Appendix 1);
  • The rate of veld degradation that has occurred over the last 10 years in the grazing lands (0 = no change, +1 = slightly increasing, +2 = moderately increasing, -1 slightly decreasing, -2 = moderately decreasing).

The main reasons for veld degradation in each of the magisterial districts were discussed and a Veld Degradation Index (VDI) was then calculated for each district as:

(Veld Degradation Severity Class + Veld Degradation Rate) * % Area of grazing land.

The soil and veld degradation indices were combined to form a single Combined Degradation Index (CDI) of degradation incorporating both soil and vegetation parameters.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Land use

A total of 367 magisterial districts were covered in this survey, of which 262 (71%) were managed predominantly (>50% of the area) under a commercial land tenure system and 105 (29% under a communal land tenure system. Not surprisingly, the communal areas conform closely to the former homeland (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei) and National or Self-Governing State (e.g. KwaZula, KwaNdebele, Lebowa, Gazankulu, Qwa-Qwa) network of apartheid South Africa but also include the former Coloured Reserves of Manaqualand (e.g. Leliefontein, Concordia, Kommaggas, Pella, Steinkopf).

On average, about 25% of each magisterial district is used for cropping with little difference between commercial and communal areas. The area set aside for crops is obviously lower in the arid and semi-arid western and north western parts of the country and higher in the sub-humid and humid eastern and north eastern regions. Grazing lands occupy the largest area in most magisterial districts (56% on average) and this value is higher for commercial (60% than communal (49%) areas. Commercial forests, conservation areas and other forms of land use (e.g. mines, lakes) comprise a relatively small area in each magisterial district (<3%) although these values range widely from district to district. On average, settlement areas occupy a larger proportion of the area of a district in the communal areas (20% than in the commercial areas (9%) and comprise on average about 12% of the area of magisterial districts in South Africa.

Workshop participants felt that over the last 10 years there has been a slight decrease in the area used for crops in both commercial and communal areas although this was slightly higher for commercial areas. The area set aside for grazing in each magisterial district has also decreased over the last 10 years but this has been substantially greater in communal than commercial areas. The area used for commercial forests, conservation and other land use practices has increased slightly and it appears similar for both land tenure systems. Settlement areas have increased substantially in both commercial and communal areas but the increase is almost twice as great in communal than commercial areas. In both cases, however, the expansion of settlement areas has usually been onto grazing lands.

In the last 10 years, the intensity of land use has increased for all Land Use Types in both commercial and communal areas except for the grazing lands of communal areas. The positive land use intensity trend is particularly high in settlements where the delivery of water and electricity has occurred in many rural communities over the last 10 years. Similarly, new irrigation practices, better seed quality, fertilisation and mechanisation in both commercial and communal areas have all contributed to the positive land use intensity trend for commercial and communal cropping areas have all the grazing lands in the communal areas, however, the collapse of infrastructure necessary to manage a productive livestock industry (e.g. fences, boreholes, dipping facilities), as well as stock theft, has resulted in the negative land use intensity trend.

Soil Degradation

In general, workshop participants felt that soil degradation is highest in the grazing lands, crop lands and settlement areas in each magisterial district and that these values were on average two to four times higher in communal than commercial areas. In fact, for the commercial districts, soil degradation only appears to be a significant problem in the grazing lands. In comparison, soil degradation appears negligible in commercial forests, conservation, conservation and state land and other Land Use Types in both communal and commercial areas. Although soil degradation appears to be a problem in the communal areas, the Soil Degradation Index, summed for all Land Use Types shows that not all communal areas experience high levels of soil degradation. It is the communal areas, which occupy the steep slopes along the escarpment of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Province which are most degraded. In addition, there are some commercial districts along the escarpment foothills, especially in the southern parts of South Africa which were perceived as being moderately degraded by the workshop participants.

Vegetation degradation

The Vegetation or Veld Degradation Index (VDI) is not as tightly coupled to land tenure system as the Soil Degradation Index. While the vegetation of the communal areas is perceived to be more degraded than that of the commercial areas, the differences between the two land tenure systems are not as great as they are for soil degradation. Alien plants such as Prosopis spp. And Lantana camara have severely degraded commercial rangelands, while bush encroachment is also predominantly a problem of savanna areas managed under a commercial land tenure system. Interestingly, the eastern Karoo, which has formed the focus of several previous investigations into land degradation in South Africa, has emerged as relatively undegraded in this analysis.

A Combined Index of Degradation and a Provincial analysis

The Soil Degradation Index and Vegetation Degradation Index can be added together to form a simple Combined Degradation Index (CDI). The CDI shows that problems of land degradation in South Africa are perceived to be far more of a problem in communal areas than in commercial areas.

Several key areas of degradation in the country are evident. The steeply sloping areas along the eastern escarpment incorporating the communal areas of the former Ciskei, Transkei and KwaZulu emerged as one of the most degraded areas in South Africa. Magisterial districts along the east coast regions, however, do not appear as severely degraded. Parts of the Northern Province and the Northern Cape are also perceived as being severely degraded.

When analysed in a provincial basis KwaZulu Natal and the Northern Province emerge as the two provinces with the highest number of degraded magisterial districts followed by the Eastern Cape and the Northwest Province. Gauteng and the Free State were perceived as being least degraded by people who participated in our survey.

CONCLUSIONS

A number of points emerged consistently during the course of the workshops. The most important of these were:

  • Land degradation is perceived to be more of a problem in the communal areas than in the commercial areas although considerable variation exists. Each magisterial district exhibits a unique bioclimatic, agricultural, sociological and historical profile and these, plus many other factors, all contribute to the degradation status of the district;
  • Soil degradation appears to be more tightly coupled to the land tenure system than veld degradation. Communal areas appeared to be consistently more eroded than commercial areas while alien plants and bush encroachment problems were often more acute in commercial than communal areas.
  • Soil degradation of communal rangelands appears to be the most important problem requiring attention at the moment. The virtual collapse of the infrastructure and administrative capacity within many of the communal areas has meant that land degradation continues to increase in these areas;
  • Commercial areas have benefited greatly from numerous legislative acts, state subsidy schemes and awareness-raising and education campaigns over the last century. These appear to have been beneficial in assisting commercial farmers to combat land degradation. The same level of state involvement has not occurred in the communal areas.
  • A two-pronged approach is thus advocated. Continued support of the commercial sector to maintain current levels of land degradation control is essential. However, a major initiative is necessary if the problems of the long-neglected communal areas are to be addressed. It is hoped that the National Action Programme to Combat Desertification will lead the way.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We would like to thank all the participants who attended the workshops and who gave so willingly of their time and expertise. A special thanks to the National and Provincial Departments of Agriculture who assisted in the planning and financing of the exercise.

Appendix 1. Example of a completed data sheet used in the workshops.

Name: Mr. T. Golimpi District: Cofimvaba Region: Northern Province: Eastern Province

Land Use Soil Degradation Veld Degradation

Land Use Type (LUT)

Area %

Of distrist

Area

Trend

Intensity

Trend

Type

Degree

Extent

Severity

Rate

Soil

Index

Cropland

35 -1 +1 Wt

Et

1 3 3 +2 140

Grazing land

(Veld)

30 -1 -1 Wt 2 2 2 +2 120

Forest (Com.)

10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Conservation

- - - - - - - - -

Settlements

25 +2 +1 Wt 1 3 2 +2 100

Other

- - - - - - - - -

Table continued...

Type

Species

Degree

Extent

Severity

Rate

Veld

Index

 
Ap

Be

Wattle

Harpuis

2 3 3 +2 150  
              Total

For

              Both

Indices

Total Area 100% Total soil degradation index 360 Veld degradation index 150 510