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Game farming, then and now.

Written by  Laurel Cadle Barber
| in Landbou
| June 25, 2014

During the 1970’s there was a remarkable shift in agricultural land usage in South Africa.

Many farmers switched from livestock farming to game farming, replacing all their livestock with game. Fuelling this trend was the rise of the
eco-tourism sector.  Decreased financial viability of livestock farming due to environmental factors such as drought,
and declining land productivity due to overgrazing also contributed toward the shift.

This posed a huge financial risk as establishing a game farm requires enormous capital input. Income is also seasonal as hunting and eco-tourism are seasonal activities.
          Since 2009 however, this trend has slowed with farmers rather diversifying their farming practices, and reintroducing livestock in addition to their game. By maintaining mixed farming practices they also minimise the financial risk associated with relying purely on income generated from game farming.

Untitled-5        By introducing mixed farming, farmers are able to get the best of both worlds. Tourism is one of the largest industries in South Africa, and we are a popular destination for visitors wanting to see and experience our country’s scenic beauty and wildlife. It would make sense for a farmer to maximise on these opportunities and to introduce game in addition to their existing livestock in order to reap the economic benefits associated with the game industry – in particular hunting and tourism.
        According to a World Wildlife Fund Study done in 2010, declining farming profitability and water scarcity have resulted in there being less than two-thirds the number of farms than in the early 1990s. It is thus no wonder that farmers are increasingly looking at diversification in order to be financially sustainable.
There are various factors that have influenced this shift towards the diversification of land use, and these have more to do with farmers becoming rather disheartened with the issues surrounding livestock farming.
Untitled-8•    South African labour legislation and the introduction of minimum wages for farm workers, along with labour problems and strikes, have made farmers consider the alternative of game farming, as it is
      much less labour intensive.
•    Stock theft has made livestock farming less economically viable.
•    Stock losses due to predators such as the Jackal and Rooikat (caracal).
•    Land degradation due to overgrazing has rendered land less productive.
          In South Africa the introduction and commercialisation of game has been increasing by up to 25% per year – and is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors. Game farming is considered to be a very productive form of land use, and has several income streams; breeding of rare species of game and live sales (in 2012 a total of 18200 game animals to a value of R960 million were sold on auction); income from hunting and processed game products such as venison, biltong, and hides; income from the massive eco-tourism industry.
          In the Eastern Cape farmers have increasingly been converting to ‘mixed’ farming by either introducing wildlife on their farms, or more commonly managing existing and indigenous game populations already present. By introducing game, these ‘mixed’ farmers provide a secondary income and do not have to rely on the seasonal income of pure game farming.

          There are many benefits to game farming as opposed to pure livestock farming, and it is more sustainable, both financially and environmentally. In semi-arid areas, game-based land uses present several ecological and socio-economic benefits compared to livestock farming – and it yields more than livestock. It also generates more foreign currency, and is less susceptible to drought.

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•  Game animals are better adapted to the natural environment, are
    more hardy and resistant to our frequent droughts.
•  Game animals are easier to breed and maintain, and require less
    water.
•  Game farming requires less infrastructure.
•  In the long term, the impact on the land is smaller, and contributes
    to veld restoration.
•  Game farming is a good source of income, especially foreign
    currency from hunting and tourism.
•  The trend amongst consumers is towards low-fat lean meats, and there is also a bigger consumer demand for venison.
Untitled-7          By introducing game, farmers are able to tap into the growing and financially viable eco-tourism market. Eco-tourism is defined as “‘purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the cultural and natural history of the environment, taking care not to alter the inte-grity of the ecosystem”. South Africa has seen a massive increase in the amount of visitors, bringing with them pockets filled with foreign currency.
          In addition, the hunting industry provides a financial boost to many towns and communities – either from the foreign trophy hunter, or the local South African biltong and pot hunter. Most game farms utilise culling as part of their management policy – and ethical hunting is an important income stream for these farms.
Untitled-9           Another important socio-economic benefit from eco-tourism is job creation. According to a 2008 report on job creation in the agricultural sector, a game ranch creates 3.5 jobs for every one job created on a commercial livestock farm, thus supplying desperately needed jobs in rural areas.
           Being a farmer has never been an easy job, and its only getting harder. Diversification seems to be the key to many a farmer’s woes – at least the financial ones.