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I was approached some years ago by farmers in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Kenya who needed advice on veld management and cultivated pastures.
Since 2007, with the help of senior mentors, colleagues, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, as well as agricultural and seed companies, I have taken on some assignments to assist these farmers, with some astounding results.
The information derived from South Africa’s rangeland and pasture science contributed immensely to help improve animal production in many parts of Africa. Today, countless producers who previously farmed in South Africa continue to assist farmers in these African countries.
Zambian small-scale farmers
Over the past few years, several small-scale farmers in Zambia were visited regularly to give them a helping hand with fodder crops, mainly forage sorghum, for their beef and dairy cattle. Two notable changes were observed, thanks to advice shared regarding cultivated pastures in South Africa, and by training more than 500 farmers: During the fourth quarter of 2007, total production in the Lusaka area was just over 300 000 litres of milk per quarter. During the first quarter of 2009, over 1,3 million litres were produced (a 976 000 litre per quarter increase).
In November 2010, we paid a visit to Zambia and stopped at Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust (GART), More Beef Ranch, Dar Farms, Zambeef, the Grassland Research Institute in Marondera, and the Protea and Palabama small-scale farmers’ groups.
These farms and institutions received information on Rhodes grass seed production, improvement of low-quality roughage using Rhodes and Smutsfinger grass and stylo legumes, as well as a full fodder-flow programme that included Italian ryegrass and Kow Kandy sorghum to upgrade beef cattle’s condition.
In September 2012, a visit was paid to Zambia to check on the progress since the last visit. It turned out that these farmers paid attention to our earlier advice, helping them to solve the problems they grappled with during our previous visits.
Commercial farmers in Zambia
Mazabuka, Lusaka and Chisamba up to the Mkushi district have some well-established commercial farmers, with some hailing from South Africa and Zimbabwe. These farmers have considerable experience in crop, dairy and beef farming and, with the assistance of South African agriculturalists and seed companies, are assisting small-scale farmers during regular meetings and on farmers’ days.
During my visits there, I shared detailed information on fodder-flow planning and fodder crops such as forage sorghum, pearl millet, annual ryegrass, stooling rye, Rhodes grass, stylo and lucerne.
Farm planning in Tanzania
We were invited to visit two big cattle farms in Tanzania in January 2005, to advise on cattle feeding and management. After interviewing the farmers, farm managers and farm workers, we made some general recommendations to help improve the natural vegetation (rangeland) and animal production, based on the following system: Farm planning and the implementation of correct veld management principles. The latter includes effective water supply systems and a basic fenced camp system to utilise the farm correctly.
The following factors were also considered:
- Techniques on the chemical control of encroached bush were explained, as well as the establishment of balanced tree density for maximum beef production.
- Hay production or cultivated pasture under irrigation was suggested on the red and grey soil, while the black clay soil should remain natural rangeland.
- Summer grasses such as Rhodes grass and white buffalo grass were recommended in a mixture containing stylo legumes for nitrogen supplementation. An annual fodder sorghum was added to the list for consideration.
On the animal management front, the Tanzanian Zebu cattle on the farm now have an average calving percentage of 72%, which is above African norms. The average weight of the cows is 350kg and the weaners weigh at least 200kg.
Cattle farming in Mozambique
A South African company donated Jersey cows and grass seed to dairy farmers in the Xai-Xai, Inhambane and Beira districts. Dr Johan van Rooyen, Prof Wayne Truter and I assisted eight farmers with their fodder-flow planning, while a South African farmer in the area also advised the local farmers. Pasture seed donated included pearl millet (planted in September and October 2012 for summer grazing) and stooling rye (planted in March 2013 for winter grazing).
During a visit in March 2014, it was clear that six of the eight farmers were doing well, while the other two were faring marginally. We found that they understood the management of dairy cattle to be more intensive than that of Nguni beef cattle farming. We also found that the crossbred Jersey-Nguni cows were faring very well and were producing beautiful calves.
Dairy farming in the Beira area
A few farmers who received advice on dairy farming in 2009 were visited again in 2010 and a few improvements were noted. One of the farmers planted annual pearl millet for his dairy cattle. The material was cut 40 days after planting and again 30 days after that. Production was ‘high’ according to the farmer. After hay cutting, the land was grazed until August. This additional grazing also contributed to his cows’ milk production.
One of the female farmers turned out to be the winner of a dairy competition in 2010, thanks to the progress she had made since our previous visit in 2009. She managed to improve the veld on the farm by removing encroaching bushes, as advised. The condition of the Jerseys had improved drastically since May 2010, and she also planted a camp to pearl millet.
A third farmer changed to a rotational grazing system on the six camps that were set up in May 2010. He was also feeding supplementary feed to his cattle, which contributed to higher animal production.
The fourth farmer was doing well too. Milk production was above the local average, and he started to cut hay from natural rangeland (veld) to sell to neighbouring farmers.
Commercial farmers in Mozambique
Some South African farmers started farming beef cattle in the Inhassoro district in Mozambique. In 2007/08 a group of South Africa farmers known as the ‘Sambiri farmers’ considered beef farming west of Inhassoro and they requested an agro-ecological potential study of the area. This study kicked off in May 2008 in an area of 5 000ha.
Rangeland grazing capacity was determined through a subjective visual survey, which included several specific survey points to identify grass species, grass cover, growth vigour and bush encroachment. The average grass composition in the area was as follows: palatable species 27%, semi-palatable 51%, low-palatable 8% and unpalatable 14%
According to calculations, the carrying capacity of the area can be 5 to 6ha/MLU (matured livestock unit = cow weighing 450kg). A complete farm plan was then developed for each farm. The so-called Mara veld management system, developed at the Mara Research Station, was also given as an example for veld management.
Over the past 13 years most of the farms were developed, showing good animal production.
Interest in pasture in Namibia
Cedar Marketing is a seed company that requested South African delegates, including me, to pay a few visits to Namibia between 2015 and 2019. During one such visit, we attended an agricultural show in Grootfontein and over the course of three days, established contact with at least 40 farmers.
There was an active interest especially in pearl millet, sorghum and Sudan fodder sorghum, dolichos, Rhodes grass and blue buffalo grass. The owner of Cedar Marketing, Johan Louw, gave the following feedback on the agricultural show: “Several farmers ordered pasture seed to improve their fodder flow. These orders included pearl millet, fodder sorghum, dolichos, Japanese radish and Rhodes grass seed. For the dry sandy part of the country, they ordered bottle-brush grass. There are vast areas that are too sandy for blue buffalo, and thus Rhodes and bottle-brush grass can play a role there.”
The information divulged to the Namibian farmers included, among others, the following:
- Results from the Towoomba Research Station in Limpopo on Molopo and Gayndah blue buffalo grass, including the economics of hay production, fertilisation and the management thereof.
- The carrying capacity and how veld is managed at Mara Research Station, which is similar to Namibian veld.
- The impact of blue buffalo grass on weaner weight gain, as evaluated at Towoomba Research Station.
- Results from fine-cut Rhodes grass in terms of hay production, quality and grazing.
New cultivars introduced to Kenya
We managed two visits to Kenya on invitation by Hygrotech Seed during 2002/03. This involved attending the Kenya Livestock Breeders’ Show and Sale during a three-day rally in June 2002 and numerous farmers, especially small-scale farmers, visited the stand to receive information.
Following this, we were invited to visit several Kenyan farmers involved in dairy, beef, game and hay production. We found that Boma Rhodes grass production, as well as the Boran beef cattle farmers were doing well.
While most of these farmers were faring exceptionally well, we suggested incorporating a few new species and cultivars to improve their fodder-flow programmes. These included new fodder sorghum cultivars, Smutsfinger grass, white buffalo grass, annual and perennial ryegrass, tall fescue and cow peas, among others.
At a later stage we visited another eight ranches, including those we looked in on in June 2002. We saw some successful improvements based on previous advice and gave some more guidance.
Mangu Farmers Field School
A group of 25 farmers attended a very successful workshop at Mangu Farmers Field School in Rongai. I was invited by the representative of Hygrotech to present a lecture on the establishment and management of cultivated pastures. The mission of the workshop was to help the farmers improve their farming skills and gain more information.
At the time, they had already planted Boma Rhodes, Kow Kandy, haygrazer, local fodder sorghum and maize intercropped with legumes. Some have planted Bana grass and were impressed with it, while they also understood the quality advantage of Kow Kandy fodder sorghum and cultivars.
Considerations in Botswana
Several South African farmers in Botswana required some advice some years ago. One such farmer in the Kgalagadi area, just north of the Molopo River, needed advice on his farm seemingly being overstocked, as well as bush encroachment. It turned out, however, that his farm was not overstocked, but that low rainfall over the past few years could possibly have played a role in the bush encroachment. We furthermore supplied him with a detailed document on rangeland management to help correct veld management and improve grazing.
Cultivation practices in Sudan
An Australian seed company, Selected Seeds, which has branches in South Africa and Sudan, called in my help to advise their Sudanese customers who produce hay. I visited Sudan three times. Hay production in Sudan is done under irrigation (from the Nile River in some districts and from boreholes in the desert areas). The hay crops consist mainly of lucerne and fine-cut Rhodes grass. My involvement there was to help with their management and fertilisation practices.
In Sudan, the influence of the warm climate during summer and winter, as well as the high-quality underground irrigation water, make it possible to produce hay for ten months of the year, with a production of up to 30t/ha. Management and fertilisation for these high producing hay crops should, however, be up to standard and this is where years of experience from South Africa is very helpful to these farmers. – Prof Chris Dannhauser
For enquiries, contact Prof Chris Dannhauser on
082 873 4736 or email@example.com.