The role of the shepherd

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There is nothing new presented in your piece ‘Taking action on predator control’ (16 November, pg 38). Farmers have proved beyond a doubt that annihilating jackals by whatever lethal methods imaginable over more than two centuries has not reduced the national predator problem.

The evidence is apparently higher stock losses due to the exponential rise in the jackal population. So continuing on this trajectory is counter-productive. It’s not surprising that the government no longer supports such methods as they have been shown to be unsustainable in the commercial sector.

History also reveals that in South Africa the only sustainable way of protecting livestock for the majority of farmers is by shepherding.It makes sense to create a national forum to brainstorm new ideas on how to move forward on this issue. Farming patterns and therefore thinking patterns need to change in order to find inclusive, holistic and ethical solutions. We need to expand the economy threefold: firstly by creating an educational economy, which is about upgrading skills in the workforce. Secondly, the productive economy must change the way it looks at ‘products’ – what is to be gained in terms of plants, animals, and services offered.

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And thirdly, the social economy recognises and invests in the value of ‘the person’ by meeting individual needs, and therefore creating a more caring society. As the income from tourism now exceeds that of agriculture in many rural areas, farmers ought to capitalise on the huge potential in this rapidly growing sector that includes providing farm accommodation, and possibly ventures into regional culinary, cultural, and ecological spheres, which could all be incorporated into sheep herding projects.
A career in shepherding and doubling up as a tourist guide is an ideal way to develop skills and stimulate interest within the workforce.

The focus would be a broad-based training of shepherds in animal husbandry, veld management, knowledge of flora, fauna, culinary skills and traditional medicine, while developing communication, and leadership expertise. The shepherd is the ultimate observer and therefore the key to effective hands-on herd management. With a little imagination, innovative systems of solar electrified mobile kraals can be used to protect sheep at night, while preserving the veld.

Workable rotation shifts for shepherds devised with the use of a horse and/or dog, would be used in conjunction with other recognised non-lethal predator controls. These methods would also be attractive to ecotourism (in a way that hunting, or the use of gin traps and poison, could never be), and repair the rift between consumer and farmer by supporting the growing demand for eco-friendly livestock production.

The shift from a war on predators across the abyss of perpetual bloodlust, to peaceful harmony through compassion is the only path for creating a humane and productive society.