In Namibia there are three types of cattle ranching. Those are: commercial, communal and cultural. Communal beef cattle ranching is a strange concept to me when I first arrived in Namibia. Communal farming consists of an entire community coming together to take care of their herds of livestock or farmlands. This concept of a community raising cattle together was mind-boggling because it is very different from the U.S. beef industry. Once I learned more about communal farming, I realized that just because it’s different from U.S. methods, doesn’t mean it’s an inferior method.
Communal farming is a huge cultural and economical part of Namibian society. Raising cattle is very labor intensive, so Namibian men are the main caretakers of the cattle. Cattle raised by communal farmers are not always confined by fences, but will roam freely throughout the countryside. Allowing cattle to roam free causes a few problems. Animals will cross the road in front of oncoming vehicles to get to better grazing land. These crossings can cause car accidents and accidental killings of livestock.
Communal farmers own 60% of the cattle in Namibia; however, they only contribute 5-6% of the national agriculture output, partially due to the establishment of the “Red Line.” The Red Line divides Northern Namibia as a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) prone area, from Southern Namibia, which is a FMD free area. Communal farmers living north of the Red Line cannot participate in the international export markets.
Farmers face tough challenges in any cattle operation. Overgrazing and overstocking is a huge problem in communal areas. Overgrazing land can increase desertification and destroy grazing land. Namibia, just like Texas, has a severe drought problem. About 80% of communal cattle ranchers are affected by droughts. Some ranchers may lose up to 22% of their cattle. To combat this problem, the community must band together to find the best course of action. The main options for communal farmers to combat drought are to buy feed, sell cattle, or move cattle.
While learning about communal cattle ranching in Namibia, I couldn’t help but compare it to U.S. methods of ranching. In the United States, we use antibiotics and growth hormones to protect cattle from disease and help speed their growth rates. In Namibia, no hormones or antibiotics are allowed. Namibians don’t usually dehorn their cattle. Horned cattle can cause bruising and blemishes to the hide.
Although there are many differences between the U.S. and Namibia cattle ranching methods, there are also similarities. Both countries have massive extension programs. The extension programs for communal farmers will help vaccinate their cattle from Anthrax and Brucellosis. Both the U.S. and Namibia programs help educate farmers, and act as points of contact.
Communal ranching helps generate income for ranchers, and allows them to keep strong community ties. The community works together to raise cattle to ensure they are healthy and market ready. Having strong family and community ties is a large part of Namibian culture. Being here in Namibia, has opened my eyes to international agriculture. I want to take what I’ve learned in the four short weeks that I’ve been here, and apply it to my future research. Communal cattle ranching taught me that different methods of agriculture are not wrong, just different. I learn that instead of criticizing these agricultural differences, I should celebrate them and try my best to fully understand them.