Using traditional knowledge to save South Africa′s grasslands | Global Ideas | DW | 18.03.2021
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Using traditional knowledge to save South Africa's grasslands

Animal farming is drying up areas around the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa, and impacting the local water supply. Two women are now on a mission to revive traditional grazing methods. 

Watch video 07:24

Restoring grasslands in South Africa

At the foot of South Africa's Drakensberg mountains, a unique stretch of grass and marshland can be found. 

But due to extensive livestock farming, this area is drying up. Valuable soil is being eroded and animals are increasingly struggling to find food. 

This poses a huge threat to the water supply of a country already battling drought. Although grasslands make up only 10% of South Africa's land area, the country draws 60% of its water from them. 

In the past local chiefs would come together to organize where people could graze with their herds and for how long. This rotational principle, known as "mawela," helped to prevent overgrazing. 

But through the impact of colonialism and apartheid, which broke down traditional village structures, much of this knowledge has been lost. 

Nicky McLeod and Sissie Matela want to change this. They founded the social enterprise "Environmental and Rural Solutions" (ERS) and together with tribal leaders are fighting the drying up of the grasslands with a simple approach: More grass leads to more water, which ultimately results in healthier cows and happier locals. 

Project goal: To restore and maintain a healthy ecosystem in the upper area of the Umzimvubu River in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, as well as improve the livelihoods of the rural population. The Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership Program was founded to bring together the work of various local non-governmental organizations. It finances vaccinations against common livestock diseases and trains young people to be assistant veterinarians. Creating new jobs offers new opportunities in an area with an unemployment rate of over 47%. 

Project duration: The work began in 2012 and is ongoing. Its current funding ends in 2024. 

Project funding: Since 2012, ERS has received €1.1 million ($1.3 million) in project support from donors such as WWF, the World Bank-supported Critical Ecosystem Service Fund, and the South African government. This is in addition to a matching amount managed by partner NGOs in the region through the Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership Program. 

Partner organizations: Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS),Umzimvubu Catchment Partnership Program, LIMA Rural Development Foundation, Conservation South Africa, WWF South Africa, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), and others. 

A film by Wiebke Feuersenger and Henner Frankenfeld 

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