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Livestock Farming  

Livestock farming is a major livelihood base for much of the population of the Kunene basin, particularly in the middle and lower sections, where the climate is dry.

Livestock may be used as a source of food in the form of meat and milk, for animal traction, and for carrying loads (donkeys). Livestock farming in its “pure” form has traditionally been practiced by Herero-speaking pastoralist groups in Namibia and elsewhere in the region. Traditionally, these pastoralist communities and societies have based their diet on animal products like meat, milk and blood. They often regard livestock – in particular cattle and goats – as a store of wealth (“cash on hooves”), and may culturally and spiritually be “attached” to cattle. This phenomenon is even sometimes referred to as the “cattle complex”.

Pastoralist livelihood in the Lower Kunene basin.
Source: Verelst 2005
( click to enlarge )

Forms of Livestock Farming

Flexible and mobile forms of livestock farming have evolved and long been practiced by different ethnic groups in Africa and beyond, as a way of optimising the use of scarce pasture and water resources over large areas. These livestock farming systems are referred to as nomadic or transhumant pastoralism:

Nomadic pastoralism entails irregular, but usually coordinated patterns of movement of domestic animals and people, depending on the changing distribution of available grazing and water resources, in order to ensure access to grazing and water resources at all times, during conditions of natural resource scarcity.

Transhumant pastoralism is a form of mobile pastoralism that involves more predictable patterns of cyclic seasonal movements of domestic animals and, to varying degrees people, along specific routes. During the rainy season when water and grazing resources are relatively plentiful, animals usually remain at or close to the (semi-)permanent homesteads of the people. During the dry season, animals are moved to specific dry-season grazing areas where grazing resources tend to last throughout the dry season. The dry-season grazing areas may be “cattle posts” where cattle are taken by some of the younger members of the community to graze, returning when the dry season ends, while the bulk of the people remain in their homesteads. In drier regions, or under particular circumstances of resource scarcity, people may join their animals on the journey to and from the dry-season grazing areas.

Examples: The Herero-speaking Himba people roam the reaches of the Lower Kunene on both sides of the river are an example of a nomadic pastoralist group that, over time, have adopted transhumant forms of pastoralism. Transhumant movements of livestock are not necessarily limited to exclusively livestock-based pastoralist communities and societies. They also occur in mixed (crop – livestock) farming systems, such as those practiced by the Mbandya people, an Oshiwambo-speaking Group found in south-western Kunene Province (Mendelsohn 2008).

Cattle used for pulling heavy loads.
Source: Tump 2005
( click to enlarge )

Livestock Farming in the Kunene River Basin

In the Kunene basin, livestock farming is widespread. In the Upper Kunene, livestock complements crop production as a source of food, also providing draught power and animal labour. Further downstream, livestock farming becomes increasingly important, and eventually – in the (semi-)arid lower and lower middle sections – the pre-dominant farming option and land use. Cattle and goats dominate livestock in the basin, with significant numbers of pork, chicken and donkeys. Sheep are rare (GOA 2005, Mendelsohn 2008).

In the Lower Kunene, the Himba people have long practiced a system of nomadic pastoralism which more recently, during colonial times and in post-colonial Namibia, evolved into a system of transhumance pastoralism, as a result of pressures to give up nomadism and assume a sedentary lifestyle and economy. The Himba hold land communally, administered by chiefs who manage and control settlement and grazing rights. Whereas families own the land immediately around their households, they hold and use the vast grazing lands communally with groups of senior men allocating grazing rights to the members in such a way that the grass is managed sustainably. Every community must respect the communal grazing rights of the other communities and seek permission before using the others´ land. The degree of movement is lower in Angola than Namibia, as cattle are mostly kept in the vicinity of the homestead (ERM 2009).

The diet and livelihoods of the Himba fundamentally depend on the mobile subsistence livestock economy. However, various natural products, such as the nuts of the Hyphenae Ventricosa palm, supplement their diet on a seasonal basis and during times of prolonged drought. In the wet season Himba also carry out small-scale farming on the bank of the Kunene River for household consumption. Maize, millet, sorghum, and pumpkins are the main crops (ERM 2009). These supplementary natural foods as well as cash incomes from handicraft sales to tourists diversify their livelihoods. The establishment of conservancies like Marienfluss and Kunene River have further increased and diversified the livelihoods of those Himba that are members of these conservancies (see Ecotourism).

Seasonal (transhumance) grazing also occurs further east (to the east of Ruacana), affecting the southernmost part of the middle section of the Kunene basin. Mbandya farmers (see example above) in south-western Kunene Province close to the border with Namibia move their cattle up to the Mucope area up to 100 km north for grazing during the dry season (Mendelsohn 2008).

Hydro-pastoral Systems and Commercial Ranches

Angola’s MINADER’s irrigation systems programme (see Irrigated Crop Production) includes one priority scheme that supports livestock farming: The Huíla–Namibe–Kunene hydro–pastoral system, with a total envisaged area of 1 990 ha, intends the construction of ponds (chimpacas) and the perforation of boreholes foreseen for individual families and small and medium farmers (GOA 2005).

In addition, a significant, but unknown number of large commercial ranches (fazendas) of several 1 000 ha each are being established in southern Kunene Province of Angola to produce beef for sale in the markets of major Angolan cities (Mendelsohn 2008). The actual or likely locations of these ranches are not known, and it is not clear how many of them can be found within the Kunene River basin.

Cross-border Trade and Grazing

There have long been significant cross-border interactions and relationships involving livestock trade and grazing “across the border” between north-central Namibia and the Kunene Province of Angola, to the west of the point where the Kunene river starts forming the border. Namibian cattle are sold in Angola and vice versa, with recent increased cattle prices in Angola resulting in dropping sales of Angolan cattle in Namibia. Namibian cattle also often graze in Angola whilst Angolan cattle do not graze in Namibia. These cross-border interactions decrease in intensity toward the west. Nevertheless, they affect the southernmost parts of the Middle Kunene in Angola north and north-east of the Calueque weir, up to Xangongo and beyond (Mendelsohn 2008).




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