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University of Fort Hare (2013)

Evaluation of range condition, soil properties, seed banks and farmer’s perceptions in Peddie communal rangeland of the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Mndela, Mthunzi

Titre : Evaluation of range condition, soil properties, seed banks and farmer’s perceptions in Peddie communal rangeland of the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Auteur : Mndela, Mthunzi.

Université de soutenance : University of Fort Hare

Grade : MSc. (Pasture Science) 2013

Résumé
South African rangelands in combination with their surrounding homesteads occupy 13% of the entire land surface in South Africa. These rangelands are a source of forage for communal livestock. The rangelands in communal tenure system are degraded due to high human population and livestock numbers. The rangeland of Peddie was never evaluated since the introduction of Nguni Cattle Empowerment Project. Therefore, socio-ecological evaluation was conducted in order to interlink farmer‟s perceptions and scientific data to recommend appropriate rangeland management and restoration programme. Two structured questionnaires consisting of close and open ended questions were used to investigate farmer‟s perceptions on rangeland condition, dynamics, and their causes. Sixty households were randomly selected on the bases of livestock ownership and the membership in Nguni Cattle Project. In each household, any respondent of 20 years or greater, and a key informant of age greater than 40 years were selected. For scientific assessment of range condition, three homogenous vegetation units namely grassland, scattered and dense bushland were demarcated into four 100m x 50m replicates. In each replicate, two 100m transects were laid parallel to each other with 30m equidistant apart. The step point and harvesting method along each transect were employed for herbaceous species composition and biomass production. The point-to-tuft distance was also determined as a proxy for basal cover. Woody density, species composition and tree equivalents were determined in 200m2 belt transects in each HVU replicates. The germination method for soil seed bank evaluation was also employed to find plant species composition and density. The soil nutrients (OC, N, P, K, Na, Ca, Mg, Zn, Cu and Mn) and pH were analysed through solution preparation and observation under photospectrometer to determine functional capacity of the soil of Peddie rangeland. The farmer‟s perceptions comprised of 63% females and 37% males (n = 120) with a mean household of 8 people, 5 adults and 3 children. It was perceived by 93.3% respondents that the rangeland of Peddie have undergone changes over two decades. These changes were perceived by 83% respondents to be accompanied by decline in livestock numbers. Woody encroachment and overgrazing were perceived to be the major attributes of these vegetation changes. The scientific rangeland condition assessment confirmed that these changes were more pronounced as bush density increases. Dense bushland had a significantly high (p<0.05) encroached condition with 6650 trees ha-1 and 4909.5 TE ha-1 beyond the recommended thresholds of 2400 trees ha-1 and 2500 TE ha-1 respectively. Scattered bushland had a fair condition of 1950 trees ha-1 and 1198.1TE ha-1. Themeda triandra as a key species was significantly higher (p<0.05) in grassland (31.1%) than scattered (15.6%) and dense bushland (6.1%). There was a declining trend in biomass production from grassland to dense bushland. The summer biomass production was significantly higher (p<0.05) in grassland than scattered and dense bushland but winter biomass was not significantly different (p>0.05) from all homogenous vegetation units of Peddie rangeland. However, the soil fertility increased with an increase in bush density except organic carbon (OC) which was 1.61% in grassland, 1.46% in scattered and 1.53% in dense bushland respectively. Soil N, K, P, Mg2+ Na+, Ca2+, Cu, Zn, Mn and pH were significantly higher (p<0.05) in dense bushland than grassland and scattered bushland. High soil fertility in dense bushland may be attributed to by abscission of woody plants and litter decomposition. In the soil seed bank, the abundances of forbs were significantly higher than sedges (χ2 = 12, df = 1, p = 0.001) and grasses (χ2 = 8.333, df = 1, p = 0.004) in all homogenous vegetation units while sedges were not significantly different (χ2 = 3, df = 1, p = 0.083) from grasses. The Sorensen‟s index indicated that soil seed bank and extant vegetation were significantly different (p<0.05). Annual and biennial forbs and sedges had high abundances while perennial grasses formed a bulk in above ground vegetation. This provided an insight that a reliance on soil seed bank for restoration of Peddie rangeland would not be advisable because it can result in retrogression. The communal rangeland assessment provided clear qualitative and quantitative data when the combination of indigenous knowledge and scientific assessments was done. The rationale is that conclusions and recommendations of range assessment are relient on the farmer‟s perceptions pertinent to their livestock production systems and their rangeland management objectives. This study has shown that inclusion of communal farmers in policy making can provide better insight because those are the people experiencing the consequences of range degradation

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