High-density grazing in southern Africa: Inspiration by nature leads to conservation?

High-density grazing is a form of rangeland management aiming to strategically mimic the ways grasslands are utilized by grazers in natural situations. It aims to regenerate grasslands by improving soil and vegetation productivity and diversity. More recently, high-density grazing systems have been promoted as a key approach to mitigating climate change by increasing the amount of carbon sequestered in grassland soils. In this article, we describe the historical background of grazing and rangeland degradation in southern Africa, the principles of high-density grazing, and the problems it aims to address. We briefly discuss evidence of the potential benefits of high-density grazing, though we do not aim to provide an exhaustive review on this. We explore to what extent high-density grazing can be regarded as representative of grazing in natural ecosystems and whether the assumed link between nature and high-density grazing has beenhelpful in capitalizing on the potential merits of high-density grazing. While high-density grazing may represent a form of sustainable rangeland management, the main attractiveness to farmers likely relates to potential increases in livestock densities and associated productivity per unit area, as well as to potential management and social benefits. Learning from nature and inspiration by nature can play an important role in the development and communication of sustainable grazing management systems. However, it is questionable to what extent high-density grazing systems can be seen as more representative of natural ecosystems than other grazing management systems. The claimed ecological superiority of high-density grazing because of its association with nature has polarised and blurred the discussion on the potential merits of high-density grazing. Moreover, the supposed relationship between nature and high-density grazing may have led to an overselling of highdensity grazing principles and an embracement of them by policy makers and development agencies without sufficient empirical basis.
Date of publication: 
Region Focus: 
Southern Africa
RUFORUM Journal Articles