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Presidential address - 1999Towards a national rangeland policy

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The year under review has been abbreviated by my illness, and I would like to use this moment to extend my sincere thanks to all of you for your support and special wishes during this very difficult time. A highlight of my illness was the tremendous number of get well wishes and deep concern shown by all my colleagues. The wonders of modem communication have meant that I have been able to keep in touch with members and Councillors throughout the summer. It has also been possible to spend some time reviewing the documents pertaining to agricultural policy in South Africa. In this report I will focus on the efforts to keep the society functioning during 1998 and follow this with a detailed response to the challenges posed by the new national policy.During 1998 we completed the questionnaire survey, analysed the responses and provided a summary in the bulletin (Vol. 8(2)). It was very pleasing to see such a positive response from members, with some 132 questionnaires (28%) being returned. The results reflect a positive image of the society, with the journal, bulletin and annual congress continuing to be viewed as successful projects. There are some problems with the publication of the journal, but Council hopes to have our volume numbers back on track shortly. There was a request for more information on the Policy Response Protocol of the GSSA, and I will ensure that this is published in the next bulletin. In this protocol we hope to inspire members to take responsibility for responding to the opportunities provided by legislators for public comment on proposed legislation. The Strategic Plan for the GSSA has also been Televised in the year under review, with some amendments being made to the earlier drafts.In the spirit embodied by the Policy Response Protocol, I would now like to review the proposed Agricultural Policy document, and respond appropriately to those issues dealing with rangeland science which are raised, highlighting the opportunities which the policy provides to GSSA members.On the subject of research funding, the ministry has made it quite clear that there will be changes in the way agriculturaI research is funded. In SA this will occur in a number of ways. The first is that all agencies funded through DACST will be reviewed periodically and are encouraged to become increasingly accountable to clients. A policy is already in place for encouraging competition between the science councils by insisting that contracts over R1 mil should be awarded on tender. This places a great deal of responsibility on the Department of Agriculture for clearly defining its research needs. A possible mechanism for defining these needs was suggested in the formation of VELDSTOCK, but more progress must be made on increasing the credibility of VELDSTOCK. Secondly, research institutes are encouraged to explore the private sector for research funds. I believe this is generally acceptable if some incentives are provided to these private sector agencies for funding research. I am unaware of any incentives for commercial farmers to devote profits to research. In the field of rangeland science we can offer to marginally increase production by improving the use of rangeland. However, once an increase in production has been achieved by optimising use of the resource, there is no incentive to continue as the production in natural rangeland is directly related to precipitation and that we all know is finite.Of particular concern to rangeland science are the funds for long-term ecological research in the extremely variable climatic environment in which we live. In the policy document we are encouraged to explore alternative sources of funding e.g. trusts and endowments, for funding our research efforts, and I encourage you to develop the networks necessary to access these funds. Another change which is high-lighted in the document is a shift towards providing more funding to academic institutions with agriculture faculties. The policy document notes that tertiary education only accounts for 4% of research funding and suggests that more support be given to researchers at these institutions. This is an encouraging sign for those members of the society who are based at tertiary institutions. Members currently working for DACST-funded councils should be improving their links with the universities, and developing joint projects. The policy document justifies this shift in focus by saying that the universities have greater access to social scientists. It is clear that there is a greater need for contact between rangeland and social scientists, and this can be achieved by employing social scientists in the planning and execution of projects. The ARC-RFI and the CSIR Environmentek have both encouraged this direction by employing social scientists within their ranks to improve our understanding of management issues in communal rangeland. The GSSA has encouraged this further by welcoming social scientists into the society.Research priorities The former homelands occupy only 13% of the agricultural land, yet they contain some 30% of the national herd. The policy document suggests that a better understanding of these fanning systems should be developed. Projects to do this are well advanced in the ARC institutes and at universities, making use of social science expertise. Reassuringly, the document states that "rangeland management is also an important research component". One of the major problems in mobilizing the enormous production potential of the livestock in these traditional systems is the opportunities for marketing of animals, and the often un-realistic value (in monetary terms) placed on inferior condition livestock. The policy document addresses the problem by offering to improve effectiveness of support services (animal health, animal nutrition and marketing) to the producer. This offer needs to be taken seriously, and provides research opportunities in the field of animal nutrition. The marketing of livestock in poor condition in an already depressed red meat industry, requires some special skills and financial support. Numerous efforts have been undertaken in the fonner homelands. including the formation of livestock marketing boards and their associated feedlots. None of these initiatives can be regarded as successful in mobilising the economic potential of 4 million beef cattle. The reason may be a lack of confidence in "filthy lucre" and its associated growth instruments (money market. equities and unit trusts). The recent volatility in financial markets has further discouraged farmers from divesting in cattle and putting their assets into cash. It is clear that the intentions of the policy document are noble, but much more is required to be research if the interventions are to be successful. You may already be aware that the BP Agricultural scholarship has been awarded to a member of the GSSA, Andrew Ainslie, who will co-ordinate a survey of large stock numbers in the former Transkei and Ciskei.The degradation debateMuch has been written and said about the degradation of rangeland due to over-grazing, and the debate continues. The society has been actively involved in encouraging debate in the past year, and in promoting dialogue between scientists with diverging points of view. In the policy document there remains uncertainty about the nature of rangeland degradation and its impact on productivity and the other natural resources of the regions concerned. The document acknowledges that the soil erosion rates in the fonner homelands are some 5 times greater than those of the "commercial sector", yet goes on to state that the "degradation of the natural resources occurs..... irrespective of the sector or form of land tenure". Once again, research opportunities abound, and we are encouraged to assist in the assessment of degradation and to promote options for 4S the rehabilitation of degraded land. Research by aquatic scientists both here and in the US has shown that water quality is influenced negatively by the any significant surface disturbance in a catchment. In order to combat one of the obvious effects of rangeland degradation, namely a deterioration in water quality, we should be encouraging all initiatives which inculcate an ethic of stewardship over every hectare of land in South Africa. This stewardship, which could be incorporated into the Landcare Programme, should encourage individuals to take responsibility for all land which has been disturbed. including village roads, ploughed lands or over-grazed rangeland. Recent work in the Eastern Cape shows that erosion is worst in old arable lands (established circa 1935) which have not subsequently been managed. The individual who first breaks the surface to establish new lands should be encouraged to take responsibility for maintaining erosion control structures.In the policy the government has assumed the "polluter pays" principle, which means that the originator of degradation should be required to rehabilitate the land. In the case of rangeland the current user is seldom the originator of the problem, and responsibility should now lie with the state to fund the rehabilitation of these rangelands. Numerous examples of these degraded situations have been identified, and efforts to rehabilitate using state intervention are strongly encouraged and applauded in areas such as the southern Kalahari and Northern Province. Because of the vast area of degraded land, these programmes are likely to be expensive and carry ample opportunity to conduct research into rehabilitation techniques and to monitor progress. All current programmes to rehabilitate degraded land contain budgets for the monitoring of progress, both in terms of improvements to human living standards and environmental condition. It is essential that members become aware of these initiatives and associate themselves with the projects, providing expertise both in project management and in their various rangeland disciplines. It is clear that the pool of expertise that we represent should be used in project management if the development objectives of the government are to be achieved. One of the primary goals of the new policy is household food security, with special emphasis on female-headed households. I am sure we all agree that this is a noble ideal and I encourage you to plan new project proposals with the themes of poverty, women and the environment as key elements.GeneralThe policy document attempts to address the funding of uncertain events e.g. drought. This is a daunting challenge in a country which has not experienced a serious drought since the legitimate government came to power. There will be great pressure to intervene when the country faces the ravages of drought, and the members of the society should be available to assist in providing concrete evidence for the success or lack thereof of historical interventions. The document acknowledges that drought has a serious knock-on effect in allied industries, and the nett result of droughts are often more dramatic than simply a reduction in nett primary production.Is there any evidence of a response to these policies in the activities of the GSSA? The period of less than 5 years is extremely short, but I believe that the society has made a special effort to transform its membership by encouraging membership from young rangeland scientists. These young scientists are the back-bone of any society and their needs and aspirations must be met by the services offered by the society. Contact between individuals and organizations with contrasting viewpoints has been encouraged and the editorial policy of the bulletin and the journal has encouraged the publication of diverse points of view.I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me during the past year, especially the administrator, councillors and editors.African Journal of Range and Forage Science 16(1): 44–46

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