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Valuing What They Already Have

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Cross posted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Richard Haigh doesn't look like your typical African pastoralist. Unlike many Africans who grew up tending cattle, sheep, goats, and other livestock, Richard started his farm in 2007 at the age of 40. He quit his 9-5 job at a nongovernmental organization and bought 23 acres of land outside Durban, South Africa.

He wanted to totally change his life.

Today, he runs Enaleni Farm (enaleni means "abundance" in Zulu), raising endangered Zulu sheep, Nguni cattle (a breed indigenous to South Africa that is very resistant to pests), and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Richard is cultivating GMO-free soya, as well as traditional maize varieties. "All the maize tells a story," he says. Like the sheep and cattle, many maize varieties are resistant to drought, climate change, and diseases, making them a smart choice for farmers all over Africa.

This sort of mixed-crop livestock system is becoming increasingly rare in South Africa, according to Richard, because of commercial farms that rely on monoculture crops rather than on diverse agricultural systems.

Richard likes to say that his farm isn't organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. He practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests (pushing them away from the harvest) and ones that attract pests (pulling them away from the harvest) to increase yields. He also uses animal manure and compost for fertilizer.

But perhaps the most important thing Richard is doing at Enaleni doesn't have to do with the various agricultural methods and practices he's using. It's about the "stories" he's telling on the farm. By showing local people the tremendous benefits that indigenous cattle and sheep breeds, and sustainably grown crops, can have for the environment and livelihoods, he's putting both an ecological and economic value on something that's been neglected. "Local people don't value what they have," says Richard, because extension agents have tended to promote exotic livestock and expensive inputs.

In addition, Richard asks himself "what can we do that is specific to where we live?" In other words, how can we promote local sources of agricultural diversity that are good for the land and for people?

Richard is also helping document the diversity on his farm. He's been sending blood samples to the South African National Research Foundation to help them build a DNA "hoof print" of what makes up a Zulu sheep. This sort of research is important not only for conserving the sheep, but for helping to increase local knowledge about the breeds that people have been raising for generations.

As a result of his conservation work, Richard and Enaleni Farm have been recognized by Slow Food International, which wants to work with the farm and local communities to find ways to ensure that the Zulu sheep don't disappear.

Richard hopes to share his knowledge about agriculture with local farmers, teaching them how to spot and prevent disease in indigenous sheep, as well as explaining agro-ecological methods of raising food.

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BorderJumpers.org began in October 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia -- when Bernard Pollack and Danielle Nierenberg began a journey to visit nearly every country in Africa. At every stop they are meeting with farmers, community organizers, labor (more...)
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