The Sustainable Animal and Rangeland Development Programme, SARDEP, is one of the successfully implemented donor-supported development projects aimed at supporting farmers to improve and sustain their farming operations.
Established in 1991 under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development, SARDEP was set up to develop and demonstrate rangeland management strategies and to improve livestock production in pilot communal areas.
The project was intended to produce a sustainable national rangeland and livestock strategy sampled from commercial farming areas and adapted to communal farming. However, the project experienced difficulties at first because of the different farming objectives between commercial and communal farmers. Also, it was found that in the early nineties, communal farmers did not prioritize issues concerning rangeland and livestock management as commercial farmers do.
It was only after the intervention of expert programme advisors of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) that the programme gained momentum resulting in successful capacity-building amongst communal farmers.
SARDEP continued to develop the livelihood of farmers while at the same time supporting women empowerment in rural areas. One particular farmer to have benefitted from the programme is 53-year old Saara Bock from the Hardap region.
Saara's farming journey started in 1982 with only one water point for her 7 goats and 15 sheep. She is now a communal farmer on a 2800 hectare farm called Nico Noord 377 situated 85 km on the B1 road from Mariental. Today her farming operation boasts 150 goats, 600 karakul sheep, 250 persian sheep, 6 donkeys as well as 12 horses.
Speaking through an intepreter, Saara shared her experience during the 11th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP11) in Windhoek. She maintains she previously farmed on commercial land and had to do whatever it takes to improve the quality of land for her animals.She said she started a small garden to sustain her family as her farm did not generate enough income at the time.
" I was fortunate enough to be introduced to SARDEP and through the programme, I tried various farming methods which helped improve the land I was farming on," said Saara. One method included treating the land with animal manure and growing vegetables in that area.After a period, she noticed that certain vegetables did not grow well in areas covered with animal dung. According to Saara, such practices helped her realise what worked and what did not.
She said other community development projects were established in her area apart from SARDEP. "We have established a community generating income scheme that would benefit all the farmers in our community especially when times are hard and other projects initiated for women such as crafts and needlework, are proving to be a success," said Saara adding that farming with karakul sheep has proven to be more sustainable and many of the farmers generate a lot of income from the pelts sold.
She said although projects like SARDEP improve the livelihood of communities, not all areas benefit from such programmes because of the pilot approach. She therefore asked that the pilot projects be rolled out so that all communities can benefit from future programmes. According to Saara, another challenge facing the farmers is the issue of land tenure as many of the communities do not own enough land to farm on.