Sowing seeds of rehabilitation in the Karoo

Biodiversity and natural resource management award Runner-up: Renu-Karoo Veld Restoration

Over the past five years the Renu-Karoo Veld Restoration project in Prince Albert has set up a living model of how to resuscitate a degraded environment using sustainable practices.

Using rainwater capture, composting, dry toilets and manual labour rather than fuel-driven machinery in agriculture, the project has generated 11 jobs and supports 21 local people in a village where 60% of adults are unemployed.

Run by a small business set up by Sue and Richard Dean, the project uses only 12 megalitres of municipal water, 300W of Eskom electricity and 200 litres of petrol and diesel every month.

The Deans’ interest in the local people and environment began in 1987 when they set up a research station through the University of Cape Town to research the effects of sheep grazing on the natural vegetation.

Their findings showed that damage from bad grazing practices can be so great it can take 30 to 40 years for the veld to recover. They co-edited a book on the subject, titled Karoo Veld: Ecology and Management.

Poor management
“Although veld condition has an upper limit imposed by climate, landscape and soil, poor management can degrade the veld, reducing grazing capacity way below its natural potential. Badly damaged veld, such as seen around kraals and waterpoints, seldom recovers in the space of one human generation,” they wrote.

Twenty years later they started their business in Prince Albert. Recognising the need for skills development and employment opportunities in small Karoo villages, they now offer a consulting service, seed collection and environmental education.

On their 123-hectare farm they have converted 114 hectares to a contract nature reserve supervised by CapeNature, and the remaining nine hectares consist of irrigated seed orchards and a plant nursery.

Sue Dean says the Karoo used to be a subsistence economy and farmers ploughed along the rivers. This old ploughed land is infested with weeds and needs to be rehabilitated by sowing the right seeds.

“Today, vegetation is being lost when new gravel quarries are used to resurface new roads. The gravel removes all vegetation at the road side,” she says.

The couple are carrying out an audit to determine the outcomes of their reseeding and restoration interventions carried out between 2008 and 2012.

The Greening the Future judges said that, although the project was small, it was well known around Prince Albert and was having a positive impact on restoring large tracts of the fragile environment of the Karoo.

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