The Herding Academy, based in Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, teaches people to use livestock as a regenerative tool starting with eco-literacy, much of which is inculcated in indigenous farming practices. “Herders are going to become the most important people in the entire economy”. These are the opening words of a video on The Herding Academy’s website, which also argues that if we don’t start recognising the role of the herders, we are heading for disaster.
“Regrettably, the commercialisation and commoditisation of society has buried indigenous knowledge under many layers of confusion. It is critically important that the re-awakening of this knowledge is fast tracked to implementation,” says regenerative land manager and farmer in Graaff-Reinet, Roland Kroon. Industrial agriculture has drained our resources and harmed our environment.
To remedy the impacts of industrial farming, farming methods that work with nature – rather than against it – are gaining traction. These practices seek to replenish soil and fall under the umbrella term, regenerative agriculture, a practice of many cultures for thousands of years. In regenerative agriculture practices, people are considered as part of the ecology – creating a holistic practice where people and the environment are treated with respect.
“Conventional agriculture is one of the most environmentally destructive practices on earth, and the ‘new’ knowledge [taught at The Herding Academy] evolves around management,” says Roland. “It is based on doing things differently, rather than doing different things.”
The Herding Academy focusses on veld and trains herders to apply brief, intense grazing on it, and then leave it to recover for many months, which is how land was used in the Karoo before European farmers introduced fences. Roland says, “Herders, of which there are many millions throughout the world, are the final implementers of land management practice and policy.
It is therefore not an unreasonable statement to say that the herders are the architects of the destiny on the landscapes they work in.
Founder of The Herding Academy Johan Bruwer developed an understanding of the importance of soil and working with nature while working on a wine farm. Since it was founded, The Herding Academy has added courses for decision-makers in order to reach more farmland and people and to have a much larger impact socially and environmentally. Johan says, “Through our executive training program, we are trying to reach various industry leaders and policy makers in order to establish a vast top-down policy introduction on government as well as commercial levels.”
In case you think you now have the licence to eat a grass-fed steak daily, a study by a team of international experts found that grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Dr Tara Garnett at Oxford University and a team of experts found that, “while grazing of grass-fed animals may offer benefits that will vary by context, “when it comes to climate change, people shouldn’t assume that their grass-fed steak is a climate change-free lunch. It isn’t.” Grazing livestock, she says, are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. “Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use.”
In the brittle Karoo landscape, however, The Herding Academy is seeing positive results from using livestock as a land management tool to halt and reverse desertification, says Roland. “Regenerative agriculture is less about the practice than the mindset. One has to adopt a regenerative mindset, which will automatically lead one to make different decisions, decisions which will sustain and improve livelihoods, economies and ecological status for the foreseeable future and for generations beyond this one.”
Watch Clifford Bestall’s documentary series about two families on N’Rougas farm in the Northern Cape who have embarked on a project of renewal and hope together. In this episode, we hear how they started farming with sheep in a predator-friendly way while an ongoing and worsening drought has Bushmanland in its grip. In the other parts of the series, you’ll hear and see how veld is transformed using regenerative farming practices.