Livestock: A true friend of land regeneration

Livestock grazing in a restored Ngitili system in Tanzania. Photo by Lalisa A. Duguma/ICRAF

Livestock grazing in a restored Ngitili system in Tanzania. Photo by Lalisa A. Duguma/ICRAF

Livestock keeping—in particular of cattle and goats—has often been painted as the enemy of sustainable land management in Africa. But a closer look shows that when well managed, livestock can be one of the most powerful agents of land regeneration and prosperity for livestock keepers.

Infact, well managed large herds of cattle, goats and sheep bring benefits to soil and plants that cannot be achieved by plants on their own; livestock, for instance, cycle nutrients, transport seeds, and enrich the soil with manure.

A session of the recent Beating Famine Conference in Lilongwe, 14-17 April, was dedicated to the topic of Improved and Holistic Grazing Systems for Southern Africa.

Facilitated by Clinton Muller of LandCare, the session delved into sustainable rangeland management. In particular how the integration of livestock into farming systems can be an important part of land regeneration.


Molly Cheatum of Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology, Malawi’s leading training and demonstration centre for permaculture, described Kusamala’s work with farmers and livestock keepers in Malawi.

Molly Cheatum of Kusamala Institute, Malawi. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Molly Cheatum of Kusamala Institute, Malawi. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Kusamala, part of the Savory Network, is a non-governmental organization that promotes household-level permaculture and agroecology systems in Malawi through demonstration, education, outreach and advocacy.

“Through the Savory Network over 1,800 people have been trained and 2.5 million hectares affected,” said Cheatum.

Savory visualises “a place where farmers, ranchers and pastoralists can come together to learn a better way to manage their land…A way built upon ancient wisdom informed by nature’s patterns… A way that restores the integrity of the ecological capital upon which our existence depends, said Cheatum.”

Besides large livestock, Kusamala’s main training area, permaculture, requires the husbandry of small livestock such as chickens and rabbits as an integral part of this sustainable, climate-smart and intensive form of farming.


Emily Mutota, technical project officer with the Department of Environmental Affairs in Namibia, described the efforts by the Namibian government to encourage more sustainable livestock keeping in this ‘cattle country’ where livestock contributes 80 – 85% of the income generated from agriculture.

Emily Mutota, Namibia. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Emily Mutota, Namibia. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

The Namibia government is training both small-scale and large commercial farmers in better rangeland management, so they are able to generate a good income from their livestock.

“Well managed, livestock can help to generate grasslands and grow wealth and stability in rural areas,” said Mutota. “After all, it doesn’t help to be a farmer if you cannot generate income from it.”

Among the approaches the Namibia government is promoting are:

  • Short rotational grazing, which allows sections of the land to regenerate naturally,
  • De-stocking and re-stocking cycles, including subsidies to attract farmers to sell when grazing lands cannot support their herds, and
  • Training in business skills (such as simple book-keeping) for farmers.

The Namibia program has found that certain biophysical features and socio-cultural practices and beliefs stand in the way of better rangeland and livestock management, said Mutota. These include:

  • The vast expanse of the country (which makes it difficult to reach some farmers),
  • Communal grazing lands (which means that all farmers have to agree on adoption of better practices),
  • Cultural values that equate large herds with wealth and social status,
  • Population growth, and
  • Climate change.

Rolf Shelton of the Grassroots Trust in Zambia commented that some of these cultural issues could be resolved by bringing back traditional governance structures into communities.

Underground forest

Tony Rinaudo of World Vision said trees are an integral part of improved rangeland management. Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) of trees, coupled with good livestock management, can yield dramatic results in a landscape, as seen in Niger and other parts of the Sahel, he said. Rotational grazing —practiced by pastoralists in Africa for millennia—ensures that the hooved animals’ habit of chewing through or trampling young seedlings before they can grow into trees is controlled.

Tony Rinaudo, World Vision. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Tony Rinaudo, World Vision. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

“Faidherbia albida regenerates easily and has an incredible ability to support livestock,” said Rinaudo.

“Twenty-five trees per hectare provide a full fodder ration for 1-1.5 sheep per year. And trees, furthermore, host many predators of insects, helping to protect crops against pests. This is in addition to providing shade for livestock.”

And because “there is a vast underground forest waiting to be released (through FMNR and managed grazing), these benefits can be gained without planting a tree seedling,” he continued.

To people, livestock provide a viable way to diversify livelihoods, as well as nutrient-rich milk and meat, whose demand the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects will grow by 78% and 58% respectively by 2050.

IUCN and UNEP, in a new report titled ‘Pastoralism and the Green Economy – a natural nexus?’, term extensive livestock production “one of the most sustainable food systems in existence.”

Clearly, well managed livestock and rangelands on a global scale will be an important part of meeting the growing demand for nutritious food. When kept in improved and holistic grazing systems, livestock will, furthermore, help regenerate the soil—the bedrock of all agricultural productivity.


Download presentations by:

Emily Mutota (Rangeland Management in Namibia)

Emily Mutota (Landcare opportunities in Namibia and at bigger picture )

Molly Cheatum (Upscaling Grassroots Efforts with Holistic Livestock Land Management)

Visit Beating Famine conference site:

Twitter: #beatingfamine

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Beating Famine Conference seeks a bold vision for Southern Africa

Beating Famine conference tackles food insecurity in Southern Africa

Catalyzing adoption of trees for food security in southern Africa: Some lessons from eastern Africa

Linking fertilizer subsidies to sustainable farming with trees

 Fertilizer tree options for farmers

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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