400 participants attended HMI’s first Namibian Open Gate held at Springbokvley Farm which coincided with owner Judith Isele receiving The Young Farmer award from the National Farmers Union (NAU) in Namibia.
Namibian Holistic Management Certified Educator Wiebke Volkmann facilitated the Open Gate along with presentations by Wayne Knight, South African Holistic Management Certified Educator.
The great diversity of people coming to this Open Day generated not only a sense of astonishment, but also celebration. The pioneers of Holistic Management in Namibia and elder leaders of organized agriculture, well-known politicians and community leaders, field facilitators and farmers from Namibia’s many and diverse communal lands and ethnic origins, staff of support organizations, NGO’s and agribusinesses, freelance consultants, educators and farmers came.
After Judith Isele welcomed all guests and thanked all helpers, the president of the NAU, Mr Ryno van der Merwe, spoke about the value of precision farming to deal with the many challenges that agriculturists face. Climate change, drought, the weakened Southern African currencies in a global market economy, political priorities and the diminishing carrying capacity of the land due to bush encroachment were mentioned as the main challenges. He went as far as saying that any farmer who will not adapt now to a more pro-active and concerted management can expect to be out of business in five years. Therefore farmers should focus on what they can change, namely management of production, rangeland, labour, financial expenditures and risks. Talking straight, he said farmers should not make poor prices responsible for their poor performance.
Wiebke Volkmann spoke for both the Namibia Centre for Holistic Management and HMI explaining to the audience how the Namibia Centre evolved and some of the key players in that evolution and the willingness for the southern Africa Holistic Management community of educators and practitioners to help those interested in learning more about Holistic Management.
Next, Wayne Knight, as an HMI Director, presented HMI’s award of Outstanding Demonstration Site of Holistic Management to Judith for her excellent work at documenting and sharing her Holistic Management practice.
The next presentation was a presentation by Mr Sakkie Coetzee, the CEO of the NAU and the coordinator of the Young Farmer of the Year selection committee. He shared information about the NAU’s current project (funded by the EU) to roll out awareness about the National Rangeland Management Policy and Strategy (NRMPS). This policy was co-drafted by Holistic Management educators Colin Nott and Wiebke Volkmann. Through their interaction with scientists, practical ranchers, government technocrats and rangeland consultants, the principles of Holistic Planned Grazing and key ecological insights of Holistic Management are included in the NRMPS.
When Judith Isele spoke, her explanations clearly showed how the various principles and processes of Holistic Management helped her achieve the outstanding results which she could verify through thoroughly processed data and visual appraisal of her livestock and land base. With regards to rangeland management cattle, sheep and horses are seen and treated as gardeners of their own food and Holistic Management planned grazing is used to meet the needs of everyone. Judith did not hold back with her challenges, either – mainly growing more grass than her livestock can cycle back into the ground through dunging, urinating and trampling.
It is in this context that she described her experiments and scientific research where she compares two treatments to her “normal” holistic planned grazing as control: 4 replications in different areas of the farm received the equivalent of a double stocking rate. For this the three herds of animals moving through all of the 60 camps (paddocks) and stay twice as long as they would if they followed the “normal” planned grazing period. The other experimental treatment observes the effects of increased stock density from subdividing the paddock with temporary electric fencing with one day graze periods only. The stock density is not fixed – depending on the herd composition and the size of the camp. Forage composition, biomass production and plant vigor of all species on the fixed transects are measured twice a year and compared to the baseline taken in 2014.
Judith’s provisional data makes clear that when measuring biomass production not only in terms of samples cut and weighed, but also in terms of what livestock have harvested and converted, the camps with double the stocking rate yielded more than the increased density and control samples.
Many conventional farmers found it difficult to accept the statement: “I work with what I have here on Springbokvley: one species of perennial and one species of annual grass.” Rather than focusing on the species but on the vegetative state of these grasses, Judith aims to further increase digestabilty and nutritional value.
With regards to production management Judith mentioned that she is led by the vision to farm sustainably and efficiently with animals that she likes. The indigenous Nguni cattle and Damara sheep breeds are adapted and require little external inputs. During her second presentation on how she puts principles into practice, she explained that initially the cattle and sheep ran in three herds, each in their own cell of camps to obtain maximum benefit from multi-species grazing. However, cattle and sheep tended to move in separate groups, and in 2013 Judith wanted to see what behavior changes and impact it would make if all the sheep would move in one larger herd and cattle would be split in two groups – each as big as the water supply allows. Judith observed some loss in condition in mainly the sheep and now has started to mix the two species again to have greater flexibility in grazing planning and to make better use of especially sheep forage in all the camps during the early growing season.
With regards to financial management Judith aims to “live now and provide for the future”. This she intends to do by doubling the profit per hectare in the near future. Control of daily expenses, good record keeping and planning are standard for her and spending a bit more to ease daily work load is the special challenge she set herself.
Marketing is led by the principle of natural production off the veldt (rangeland) and selling the adapted livestock when it is slaughter ready, rather than using external inputs or special measures for fattening. She also compares the options of various transport load sizes and takes advantage of a variety of abbartoirs/meat processors.
After Judith’s presentation, Quinton Barnes, who manages a 15,000 hectare (37,500 acre) cattle operation near Ghanzi, Botswana, gave an overview of “What Is Holistic Management.” He sketched out the decision making framework he and his two brothers and their parents use for strategic planning and for day to day management on land in South Africa and Botswana. He also highlighted the holistic financial planning with the marginal reaction/comparing options test when comparing and selecting enterprises. He demonstrated how their decision to sell “long weaners” and to keep any animal until after the growing season and only sell it then, has profited them hugely, even with desperately low meat prices and late payments by the abbatoir.
The field trip to view the farm took place in the afternoon. Roughly 300 people climbed onto cattle trucks and pick-ups with trailers. At two stops Wayne Knight facilitated question and answer sessions: One near cattle where the long-term effects of “normal” planned grazing could be observed – farmers were amazed at the amount of grazing that grew from such little rain – approximately 90 mm (less than 4 inches) this rainy season in comparison to the 182 mm (7.25 inches) long-term average for the same timespan/portion of the rainy season.
The second stop was on a fence line from which three management regimes could be seen: the “normal” planned grazing, the experimental doubled stocking rate and the neighbor’s game farm with set stocking and no livestock at all. At this point a discussion around bush encroachment, the use and effect of fire and the use of livestock to cycle nutrients ensued.
For those who did not want to join the field trip there was a presentation by the founder and chairperson of the Namibia Organic Association and horticultural producer, Manjo Smith. The topic was soil preparation, using compost, effective microorganisms, wormy compost and other organic methods. This presentation linked with Judith Isele’s passion and personal practice of home-grown food, and participants could see the implementation of the principles in Judith’s vegetable garden.
After returning to the homestead, many participants stayed for a delicious organic Nguni steak barbeque and dance – an appropriate end to a day of celebrating what the parent generation of the young farmers had envisaged: An approach to livestock farming that addresses the root cause of land degradation and re-generates the potential of the land to satisfy social and financial needs as well as delivering ecological services that go way beyond the farm gate.
Thanks to Judith Isele and her team of organizers as well as the Namibia Centre for Holistic Management for all their efforts to make this event a success. Thanks also to the Namibia Organic Association, the National Farmers Union, and the Leonardville Farmers’s Association for their support of this event.
Because this event was an opportunity for the southern Africa Holistic Management community to come together, 5 Certified Educators, 3 Community Facilitators, and 7 practitioners met the day after the Open Gate and shared current projects they are working on, as well as key experiences and insights regarding “content” and facilitation/learning methodology and general dissemination of Holistic Management awareness.
Also coinciding with this event was Wayne Knight’s presentation, “Experiences with Treating the Root Causes of Brush Encroachment,” at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) for 85 people. Wayne was asked by the Botanical Society to speak about this topic that dominates rangeland debates in Namibia. The audience was a combination of students, farmers, NGO and research station employees, consultants, scientists and members of the Botanical Institute and the Botanical Society of Namibia.
Wayne’s accessible descriptions of soil biology and how the proportion of fungi and bacteria creates favorable or unfavorable growing conditions for woody and for fibrous rooted plants (grasses and forbs) came across well. He made the link between healthy grasslands and the enormously large herds of plains game roaming across Southern Africa before settlers and livestock farming started to dominate the landscape.
HMI is excited to be collaborating with our southern African educators and practitioners to bring more Holistic Management programming to Namibia.
Photographs credits: Christiane Thiessen and drone photographs by Conrad Roedern of Solar Age Namibia.