Shocking damage to Karoo veld

A picture is worth a thousand words. This week I have three pictures that are worth much, much more than that – and tell a sorry tale!

Shocking damage to Karoo veld
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On a recent trip to see a client in Schoombie, which lies between Ventersburg and Middelburg, I took the shorter route via Bethulie. I had spent the night in Bloemfontein and was on the road well before sunrise. Just beyond Bethulie I decided to take a short break.

As I stepped out of the car I was immediately greeted by the croaking call of a Karoo korhaan. The air was fresh, pure and invigorating. A life-is-great feeling permeated my soul. Then my eye caught the dense stand of rooigras (Themeda triandra) that was growing on the road verge. I’ve always found it hard to imagine that the Karoo was once covered in grass, but now here it was, right in front of my eyes (See photo 1).

To add to my joy, I noticed a thick layer of the mulch that plays such an important role in rainfall uptake and in preventing evaporation. These are all soil-life promoting factors, which introduce essential plant nutrients – free of charge – to the grass.

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My gaze then strayed over to the adjoining farm camp and my feeling of joy and well-being dissipated in a rush (See photo 2). I walked up to the fence and was shocked to see how this beautiful veld was being destroyed. Instead of rooigras, the veld was dominated by unpalatable and low-productive pioneer grasses. What’s more, Karoo bush encroachment was well underway.

Photo 2. The veld is now dominated by unpalatable and low-productive pioneer grasses.

What a disaster! But worse was still to come.

I travelled a few kilometres further and, to my utter horror, saw how the veld had been damaged on a massive scale.
The hardy Karoo bush had taken over completely. The grassveld was non-existent. There was no mulch. Consequently, precious topsoil was being lost to wind and water erosion (See photo 3).

Photo 3. The damage has been done.

In the distance I caught sight of a kraal at the base of the mountain. Need I say it was full of goats?

Now, let me say I have nothing against goats. They are truly amazing animals – the ultimate survivors. But they do symbolise poverty in regions that are on the point of total collapse. Depressed, I drove on, thinking about how our government is pre-occupied with land redistribution instead of focusing on the preservation of irreplaceable agricultural resources.

John Fair is a leading expert on pastures and founder and head of the SA Biofarm Institute in Harrismith. Contact John on 058 622 3585 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Biological farming’ in the subject line of your email.