THE rapid growth of sheep farming in the Graaff- Reinet area is degrading range lands and placing the environmental future of the Eastern Cape Karoo in jeopardy.
This is the view of Thula Dlamini, whose paper, "Graaff-Reinet and springbok ranching: any chance for a better future?", was presented at the Second Karoo Development Conference yesterday.
The paper argues that the economy of Graaff-Reinet and the Karoo could do better in future farming springbok.
Dlamini is a PhD student at Rhodes University in Grahamstown and part of the Agriculture Research Council.
His paper was presented by Prof Gavin Fraser of the Department of Economics at Rhodes.
While the paper does not compare sheep farming to fracking, it states: "[Domestic livestock farming] has placed the future sustainability of the range lands together with the livelihoods of the local people in an indeterminate state."
Many farmers in the Karoo believe fracking will destroy the Karoo and leave it a barren wasteland.
Fraser said the paper suggested springbok farming could be a viable option and reverse the impact sheep farming has already caused.
For hundreds of years, domestic livestock grazing has negatively affected the biodiversity of "ecological niche areas" in the Karoo by the eating of selective plant species.
The constant grazing by domestic livestock has interfered with the diversity of species in the Karoo ecosystem, the paper states.
This, coupled with "technologies" like windmills and wire fencing, also add to the Karoo's environmental destruction. "This is not a new issue. It was around 100 years ago."
He said the Zwarte Ruggens Farmers' Association had feared in the 1900s the Karoo would "become a region of emptiness, howling and dread which man has abandoned from famine and fear".
This could still happen. Fraser said nothing had been done to reverse the side-effects of sheep farming in the Karoo for the past 200 years apart from policies encouraging farmers to reduce stock rates.
"Springbok ranching has seen an increase in the Karoo region but more needs to be done," Fraser said. Springbok harvesting had increased by 50% between 1996 and 2010 in the Graaff-Reinet area.
"Given a changing climate and a need to reconcile the conflicting objectives of maximising profits and conserving the environment ... there is an opportunity to achieve an environmental and economic equilibrium in Graaff-Reinet," the paper said.