TOCASA (Trade-offs in communal areas in South Africa)

TOCASA (Trade-offs in communal areas in South Africa)


BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund)

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2 years starting 01/04/2019

In light of COVID-19, the project will run for 36 months until the end of March 2022.


Rothamsted Research (UK), Conservation South Africa, Stellenbosch University and Rhodes University.


James Bennett, Stefanie Lemke, Heidi-Jayne Hawkins (CSA), Cletos Mapiye (SU), Tony Palmer (RU)

CAWR Themes

Resilient Food and Water Systems in Practice and Policies and Institutions for Resilient Food and Water Systems

Sustainable Development Goals

GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships

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Project Objectives

The overall aim of this project is to evaluate trade-offs between novel range management practices (intensified planned grazing, corralling and removal of woody plants) so that production, ecosystem function and livelihood outcomes are enhanced in a way that is socially appropriate for 345 local people on 8 000 ha of communal range and crop lands in SA, with a potential to reach up to 2000 people on 50 000 ha of land over two years.

The project’s specific objectives are to: 

  1. Analyse the conceptual linkages between regulatory frameworks, local institutions and livelihoods and how these shape behaviours and range management practices in communal systems, with a focus on marginalized groups.
  2. Co-construct stakeholder priorities for use of communal grazing lands and identify associated trade-offs.
  3. Evaluate planned grazing and application of IAP-biomass and biochar as tools to increase soil carbon and fertility on range and cropland.
  4. Quantify the impact of thinning woody plants and removing IAPs on potential evapotranspiration and soil water availability in communal catchments.
  5. Evaluate the use of cleared alien woody plants as a livestock fodder.
  6. Model productivity gains as balanced against ecosystem function, plant diversity and soil characteristics from the various trials
  7. Use the model outputs to explore trade-offs associated with different rangeland management practices and alternative land use scenarios and how these fit with the stakeholder objectives.


This project involves working with six local communities in the Matatiele area of Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, to explore alternative rangeland management strategies that yield livelihood benefits for local people as well as improved ecosystem benefits. Specifically, we will test the role of intensive grazing and corralling of community livestock, in conjunction with the removal of Invasive Alien Plants (IAPs) to increase primary production of grassland, soil carbon and fertility and water availability, as well as improve livestock productivity. As part of this we propose the novel use of the removed IAPs as a soil amendment and as a supplemental feed for livestock. In order to link these different production outcomes the project will develop an integrated model of livestock and rangeland production. We will use the outcomes of this model to explore the potential trade-offs between local people and environment and between different groups of stakeholders (e.g. between conservationists and local farmers and between different groups of farmers) in the context of clearly defined ‘scenarios’ for the use of communal rangelands, which will be co-developed with local stakeholders. Importantly, these scenarios will give voice to the more marginalised members of local communities such as women, who many not have livestock and have greater dependency on the harvesting of natural resources. The trade-off outcomes will be shared with local stakeholders and used to support decisions about how best to make use of the alternative rangeland management techniques to achieve the different land use scenarios they have identified.

The proposal is unique in that it is the first attempt to use an integrated model of animal and plant production to explore trade-offs between different production scenarios in a communal grazing system in South Africa. If successful the approach has potential for extrapolation to many more communities throughout Eastern Cape Province and other communal grazing areas of South Africa through an existing ‘Herding for Health’ initiative that the project builds on.


Initial Stakeholder Workshop and Focus Groups, October 2019

  • At the mid-point of the TOCASA project we provide an update on progress. There have been some great achievements in the first year of the project. Notably, the CU team visited South Africa in June 2019 to do some initial fieldwork in the Mvenyane area of Eastern Cape Province. Focus groups were undertaken separately with men and women at three villages to ascertain the main uses made of rangeland resources and the constraints they faced in the management of these. This was essentially a ‘scene-setting’ precursor to the subsequent stakeholder workshop (see below and preliminary findings hosted on website). At the same time academics from Rhodes University set up a scintillometer and associated environmental monitoring equipment in the nearby upper Umzimbuvu catchment to measure the evapotranspiration of invasive wattle (Acacia mearnsii and Acacia dealbata) stands, over a two-week period. This has produced some fascinating results underlining the comparatively high levels of water use at the catchment scale resulting from wattle encroachment. This data will feed into the subsequent modelling work under land use different scenarios.

    Importantly, in October 2019 we convened a very successful two-day stakeholder workshop in the local town of Matatiele. The purpose of this was to address the potentially conflicting socio-economic and environmental outcomes required from communal rangelands by different stakeholder groups. Participating were key stakeholders from academia, local NGOs, local and national government (policymakers) and the communities themselves, capturing a wide range of perspectives on use and management of communal rangelands.; Over the two days, stakeholders outlined their priorities for rangeland use and management and then worked to explore the trade-offs that might need to be resolved and how these might translate into alternative land use scenarios (see workshop report on the website). These scenarios were premised primarily on the reduction of wattle to facilitate better environmental outcomes and greater livestock production, and will be used as a basis for the subsequent modelling work.

    Complementing all of this has been some ongoing monitoring work conducted by staff from Conservation South Africa to measure the condition of areas of rangeland in Mvenyane that are being rested by agreement with local communities. CSA also initiated some experimental work on thinning of wattle stands to explore whether this gives better environmental and social outcomes than simply clear-felling.

    In early March 2020 the project team submitted the mid-term report on the project to BBSRC. Almost immediately after this, all planned international travel and in country activity as part of the project was suspended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This also impacted on all training activities and conferences, which were postponed until 2021, in particular the International Rangelands Congress (IRC), which the entire team was scheduled to present at in October 2020. However, at the end of June 2020 we received the welcome news that the project has been granted an eight month no-cost extension by BBSRC until the end of November 2021. This was very timely as it will allow the team time not only to shift data collection and final workshops into 2021, but also provides the opportunity to attend the re-scheduled IRC congress in October 2021. Fortunately, there are sufficient unspent funds within the project to enable the post-docs at both Coventry University and Rothamsted Research to be kept on until the new end date.

Papers presented at International Rangelands Congress, October 2021:

Final Stakeholder Workshop: Presentations and Final Report 2022

Theses and Published Papers

For more information on this project please contact James Bennett.

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