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Land Reform, Range Ecology, and Carrying Capacities in Namaqualand, South Africa

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In South African rangeland management, there is a long history of using the notion of carrying capacity as a central planning tool for environmental conservation and agricultural modernization. Today, in the new South Africa, the “need” for livestock keepers to adhere to a defined carrying capacity in order to conserve rangeland resources and to achieve economic development remains an institutionalized “fact.” In this article, we use interviews, livestock and rainfall data, policy documents, and aerial photos to discuss the idea of carrying capacity as it is currently used in the implementation of land reform in Namaqualand in the Northern Cape Province. This article is a contribution at the interface of human ecology and political ecology, linking environmental issues to economic constraints, land rights, social justice, and values. Policymakers and extension services usually see carrying capacity as a purely technical issue. We argue that this is problematic because it gives privilege to environmental sustainability and to one particular perception of the ideal landscape at the expense of livelihood security and poverty alleviation. It also perpetuates the colonial myth that the private ranch system is an ideal one, independent of disparate production goals and unequal economic opportunities and constraints, and it ignores evidence going back more than half a century that the Namaqualand range is capable of sustaining livestock densities far greater than those recommended. The winners that emerge from the current policy focus on carrying capacity are the few emergent black commercial farmers as well as conservationist interests; the losers are the majority of poor stockowners in the communal areas.
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Keywords: Namaqualand; South Africa; carrying capacity; land reform; political ecology

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Noragric, Norwegian University of Life Sciences 2: Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh 3: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape

Publication date: 01 September 2006

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