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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

Going Backwards? Moving Forward ? Nguni Cattle in Communal KwaZulu-Natal

Wolfgang Bayer1, Rauri Alcock2, Peter Gilles3

1Independent Advisor in Livestock Systems Development, Germany
2Mdukatshani Rural Development Project, South Africa
3Diocese Mariannhill, Land Reform and Rural Development, South Africa


Nguni cattle have evolved in South Africa in precolonial times, as small, early maturing, docile and disease resistant multi purpose cattle, which attained a high cultural importance, particularly among the Zulu. Early colonial farmers and scientists rejected them as poor beasts and advocated their replacement with cattle with at least some European blood. During the period of apartheid, with labour tenants and homelands, agricultural services were also active in discrediting indigenous livestock breeds, and slowly communal farmers accepted that large framed, so-called commercial animals would be better, and that good animal husbandry includes supplementary feed, regular dipping for tick control and other veterinary interventions. With a reduction of state subsidies after 1994 these measures became less and less economically viable for communal farmers. Four decades ago, it was feared that the Nguni breed would become extinct. Some scientists and commercial farmers became interested in Nguni as hardy, low input animals, acquired Nguni cattle and formed a breed society, with now some 20000 registered breeding animals. A recent book on variability and indigenous classification of Ngunis became a best seller, yet all this had little impact on communal cattle farmers.
During a recent study for two development projects in KwaZulu Natal cattle keepers claimed ignorance of the advantages of Nguni cattle, which according to them, was something for white farmers, although reportedly a large number of Nguni cattle of varying purity is being kept in communal areas. Already during the study a booklet, showing various South African livestock breeds, created interest in Nguni cattle among communal farmers. As a first step both projects organised farmers' visits to stud farms and research stations that keep Nguni cattle. Discussions with farmers are under way of how promote Nguni cattle breeding in the project areas. Community bull keeping may be an option in some areas, but is difficult in others, because of cattle theft, particularly of new “exotic” animals. Given the high technical standards of South African services, even AI and synchronising cows, in order to produce Nguni bulls “on the veld” should not be discharged, and is in fact being tried.

Keywords: Adaptation, promotion of indigenous breed, South Africa

Contact Address: Wolfgang Bayer, Independent Advisor in Livestock Systems Development, Rohns\-weg 56, 37085 Göttingen, Germany, e-mail: wb_bayer@web.de

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