The Klein Karoo area has, in terms of biodiversity, been recognised as an international biodiversity hotspot, where 3 biomes of global significance (Succulent Karoo, Fynbos and Subtropical Thicket) converge. In terms of the environment, this means that vegetation found in this area is highly unique and unfortunately also threatened.

The Ostrich Industry is the economic driver of the Klein Karoo. Ostrich farming practices over the past 100 years have significantly changed and impacted on the biodiversity of the Little Karoo. The industry does not deny that severe degradation has taken place, but strives to balance sustainable production and conservation in this sensitive area. Increased own and public awareness ( locally and internationally) are now forcing the industry to focus on ways to minimize the impact of domesticated ostriches on natural veld.

The biodiversity unit of the South African Ostrich Business Chamber (SAOBC) is focusing on the critically endangered areas of the Little Karoo, engaging with farmers to look at alternative farming practices.

Being the main economic driver of the area and the fact that the industry is driven by export markets, the Biodiversity Unit are now focusing on the livelihoods of farmers and farmworker communities which is the first to be affected by unstable markets.

Since May of 2008 the SAOBC implemented a Biodiversity Management Project with funds received from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF). This project is in line with the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Fund (SKEP), the Succulent-Karoo Program of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the SANBI’s Fynbos-program (Cape Action for People and the Environment – CAPE). Both these programs strive to conserve biodiversity, give ownership to communities living in these areas and ensure growth within these communities.

This project’s focus is on biodiversity management within the ostrich industry. The project focused on endangered plant species (ganna-and voorskootveld), that grow between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. Ten willing farmers took part in this project and the project focused on social development and training within the communities and the developed of a national environmental standards strategy for the ostrich industry.

National Environmental Standards

Working close with the Department of Forestry’s and Fisheries (DAFF), CapeNature, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Affairs and Planning, Conservation Management Services and willing farmers, a national environmental standard strategy was develop for the industry.

All the register ostrich abattoirs adhere to with the BRC Global Standards and is NSF certified.  The tanneries adhere to the ISO 14001 standards.

The Ostrich Farmer & Biodiversity

In every article on sustainable development – the interdependent aspects of it are mentioned: environmental, social and economic.  One of the most acceptable definitions of sustainable development is: ‘development that satisfies the needs of today without threatening the potential of future generations to satisfy their own needs’.  The crux of this definition is a stable relationship between human activities and the natural environment that will not impede the prospects of future generations to lead a quality life. Ecosystem services are central in this definition – without them the social and economic aspects cannot exist.

The loss of plants usually leads to a loss of soil, due to water and wind erosion.  This of course also has a direct impact on farming and biodiversity. Vegetation plays a critical role in water retention and infiltration into the soil.  It reduces the rainfall splash-effect and slows down the run-off.

Keeping to the proposed ecological carrying capacity standard of 1 ostrich per 22.8 ha on natural veld and when the three camp systems is used, the natural veld will be well rested and recuperated   after a 2 year resting period.