The Karoo Development Conference and Trade Fair held in March in Graaff-Reinet was the first of its kind in South Africa. It highlighted a myriad of entrepreneurial possibilities in tourism, and showcased the promise of developing a sought-after brand of lamb, olives and other products, writes Lindi van Rooyen.
The arid Karoo zone certainly has the potential to become a mecca for tourists looking for solitude, serenity and space. With reverse migration, arid regions could be at the forefront of a brain-gain. Director of the Tourism Research Unit at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Peter Myles says tourism in desert regions is catching on. “As city dwellers increasingly yearn for an escape from the rat race we’ll see more businessmen moving to rural areas,” says Peter. “To make a living they’ll have to use entrepreneurial and creative skills and local products and labour, uplifting local communities.” This year’s Trade Fair exhibited businesses capitalising on Karoo products and innovations to sustain life in the arid region. |fw
What’s so special about the Karoo?
The region has been labelled the most productive desert in the world by Mark Engel at the Free State University, producing about 2kg of fibre and 10kg of meat per hectare a year.
The Succulent Karoo is a global-biodiversity hotspot which means it has greater plant and animal diversity for its size than any other arid area.
One-third of the 10 000 succulent plant species in the world occur in the Karoo.
The rocks of the Karoo basin preserve a world-class assemblage of fossils documenting the early evolution of tortoises, dinosaurs and mammals. This is the only place in the world where such an extended fossil record of early evolution of reptilian life is preserved in a single basin, and chronicles the most distant evolutionary ancestry of mammals in remarkable detail.
The Karoo is considered the literary heartland of South Africa with 34 of the country’s most well-know writers having lived in and written extensively about the Karoo.
Infrastructure in the towns is generally good, representing considerable investment in housing, water, sanitation, roads and other infrastructure.
Agricultural expertise is high and skilled, experienced commercial farmers often become involved in land reform, agricultural support and other initiatives.