Conservation South Africa’s Livestock Auction Yields Big Profits

The recent drought in South Africa has threatened the viability of farms and communities across the country, but the Conservation South Africa (CSA) – Meat Naturally Pty livestock auction held late last month in Mzongwana, southeastern South Africa, showed not want, but plenty. The 47 participating farmers, nearly a quarter of whom were women, earned a total of almost $43,000 for their livestock, about $14,000 more than the last auction held in June.

The auction represents the success of CSA’s work to improve access for rural farmers to the red-meat market. In recent years, commercial farmers in South Africa have supplied 95 percent of the market even though rural farmers own nearly half of the country’s livestock. For these rural farmers, access to markets, transportation, and poor grassland conditions can make it difficult to participate in the local economy, contributing to both poverty and food insecurity in rural areas.

In order to change this, CSA helps farmers develop effective rangeland management techniques that take into account local culture and needs to improve both food and water security. CSA believes in a simple formula: Good stewardship leads to healthy ecosystems with better water catchment and soil retention. This in turn breeds more productive livestock with more and better quality red meat. The result is a boost to the economy, rising wages, better livelihoods, and wellness overall.

The first step is a holistic grazing plan. CSA works with local communities to combine the herds of multiple farmers so that they can graze in a rotation that mimics the animals’ natural patterns of movement. The livestock, functioning as natural ecosystem engineers, are directed to an overgrown area to graze. In the process, they break up the soil with their hooves, which allow penetration of rainfall and acts like a plow. Their manure, in turn, also fertilizes the soil. This can eliminate or sharply reduce the need to purchase plows or fertilizers and limits infection of parasites due to overcrowding. The cattle are later moved to another area to prevent damage to the grasslands due to overgrazing and trampling.

The result has been successful rangeland restoration and, consequently, healthier livestock that yield greater profits, as evidenced by the auction last month. Of the 118 animals brought to this past auction, 92 percent fetched an average 11 cents per pound higher than in June. One five-way bidding war on a 1,367-pound ox ended in a record-high price of about $800 and even the older Grade-B and Grade-C cattle brought in record or near-record high prices.

The auction serves as confirmation of the resourcefulness of community-led, culturally appropriate approaches to land management. In a region where livestock is integral to everyday life and where the effects of climate change have the potential to be especially disruptive, efforts like this are key to survival. As a Securing Water for Food grantee, SWFF congratulations CSA on their success.