Mycotoxin places the poor at risk; poor forage leads to botulism risk; over-use of grasslands encourages bush encroachment and SA's biomass falling.

Mycotoxin risk in developing countries: The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found that mycotoxins cause not only acute poisoning and cancer, but may result in high levels of stunting in children. According to the IARC, mycotoxins are toxins produced by fungi that commonly grow on dietary staples, such as maize and peanuts. Since poor agricultural practices are mostly to blame for human exposure to mycotoxins, affected areas are more likely to be limited to developing countries, where the poor are exposed to mycotoxins by eating staples such as maize, on a daily basis. Bio-control measures and a diverse diet could reduce the prevalence of mycotoxins (Gerhard Uys, Farmer’s Weekly, 18 March 2016).

Botulism basics: Also called lamsiekte, this disease causes paralysis. Botulism is caused by Clostridium botulinum, bacteria living in the upper layers of the soil. From here they spread to dead animals, standing pools of water containing rotting plants or animals, and mouldy hay or silage, where they produce a powerful toxin. In winter, animals do not always get enough green forage. If they lack phosphorus, they chew anything from wire to stones, but especially bones. If they eat bones (or carcasses) containing the toxin, they may become infected with botulism (Source: Directorate Communication Services, Department of Agriculture).

Bush encroachment: One of the main causes of bush encroachment is long-term veld management that over-exploits the ecological potential of rangelands. Extensive bush encroachment of mainly Acacia species inhibits biodiversity, making the environment vulnerable to erosion and widespread dieback of less dominant and vigorous plant species. On very densely encroached areas, nothing grows under the bush. Many browsers cannot enter bush thickets. “We should not think that what has grown over decades can be undone in a few years” (Dagmar Honsbein, general manager of Agra Limited’s ProVision). The best approach to deal with bush encroachment is to harvest the bush population per annum – then ‘farming with wood’ could become the most important sub-sector in primary agriculture. Farmers will engage in activities that control bush encroachment as long as benefits are greater than the costs involved – the daily operational and technical management, labour management and marketing the wood products (Annelie Coleman, Farmer’s Weekly, 3 October 2014).

Sustainable veld management systems: At one stage, farming dealt only with the number of animals/ha. Nowadays, it’s also about biomass/ha (vegetation and crops) that is produced, and how this translates into profit. In simple terms, a veld management system combines rest and grazing periods into which the principles and goals of veld and livestock management are built. The level of management is probably more important than the system itself. Damaging veld practices include: Overstocking; continuous grazing; extended grazing periods; grazing the same camps at the same time every year; breeds or game species that are not adapted to the veld type; and injudicious lick supplementation (For more information, email Prof Hennie Snyman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call him on 051 401 2221).
A Dutch company, working in cooperation with the Western Cape’s department of agriculture, eLeaf, measured biomass production in the Free State, Northern Cape and the Kruger National Park during March 2016. According to the company’s report, the production of biomass in the Free State decreased with 50% from August 2015, natural vegetation in the Kruger National Park with 37%, and crops in Vaalharts irrigation system with 20%. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), a combination of very little rain and continuous warm, dry circumstances may cause a crop failure in many areas. This will have a devastating effect on the economy (Ruben Goudriaan, project manager of eLeaf, 10 April 2016).