The sustainability of small-scale sheep farming systems in the Northern Cape (Hantam Karoo), South Africa


  • M Zenda Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development & Extension Faculty of Natural and Agricultural sciences, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • P Malan Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural sciences, University of the Free State, South Africa



Small-scale sheep farmers, triple bottom-line sustainability, Hantam Karoo


The objective of the study was to assess the current sustainability of small-scale sheep farming systems in the Hantam Karoo, Northern Cape Province (South Africa). The influence of economic, social, and environmental variables (indicators) in promoting the development of sustainable sheep farming was taken into account. Thirty-two small-scale sheep farmers were interviewed using questionnaires which consisted of structured and unstructured questions. The results showed that the sheep farming system was mostly not economically viable due to low sheep numbers, but partially sustainable in the social context. Small flocks result in low income and profitability which is not sustainable. Market access was not a limitation because farmers had good trade relations. Farming benefitted farmers’ families and the community and farmers had access to basic resources. Secure tenure was a major challenge to small-scale farmers. With regard to environmental variables, grazing conditions were poor. In 2017, stocking density was within the norm, which means that frequent droughts and continuous grazing methods rather than sheep stocking rates were probably responsible for poor grazing conditions. Extension advisors could teach the practice of rotational grazing and it might be a good idea to promote gender equality in order to alleviate poverty and increase food security. 


Download data is not yet available.


Metrics Loading ...


ALIBER, M. 2019. How we can promote a range of livelihood opportunities through land redistribution. Working paper 58, Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

ALLSOP, N., LAURENT, C., DEBEAUDOIN, L.M.C. & SAMUELS, I.S. 2007. Environmental perceptions and practices of livestock keepers on the Namaqualand Commons challenge conventional rangeland management. Journal of Arid Environments, 70:740-754 DOI:

ATANGA, N.L., TREYDTE, A.C. & BIRNER, R. 2013. Assessing the Sustainability of Different Small-Scale Livestock Production Systems in the Afar Region, Ethiopia. Land. 2:726-755 DOI:

ATKINSON, D. 2007. People-centred environmental management and municipal commonage in the Nama Karoo. Development Southern Africa, 24(5):707-724 DOI:

ATKINSON, D. 2013. Municipal commonage in South Africa: A critique of artificial dichotomies in policy debates on agriculture, African Journal of Range and Forage Science, 30:1-2, 29-34 DOI:

ATKINSON, D., & BűSCHER, B. 2006. Municipal commonage and implications for land reform: A profile of commonage users in Philippolis, Free State, South Africa. Agrekon, 45(4):437-466 DOI:

ATKINSON, D., & IGLE, M. 2018. By their own bootstraps: Municipal commonage farmers as an emerging agrarian class in the Karoo, African Journal of Range and Forange Science, 35:3-4, 233-243 DOI:

BUCKWELL, A., CAPODIECI, L.G., DE GRAEFF, R., DIJJHUIZEN, A., FRABETTI, E., LARGE, A., REYNOLDS, C., ROSATI, A., SCHOLTEN M., SCHREIBER, R., TICE, G., VERDONK, D., WILLIAMS, A., KANLI, A., & CHAVEZ, M. (2015). Sustainable livestock production in Europe: A question of food security, climate and innovation

CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT. 2007. Arid Areas Report, Volume 1: District socio-economic profile and development plans. CDS Research Report, Arid Areas. Bloemfontein; University of Free State. 1:1-87

CONRADIE, B. 2019. Land use and redistribution in the arid west: The case of Laingsburg Magisterial district, Agrekon, 58. (3):281-291 DOI:

CONRADIE, B., PIESSE, J., & STEPHENS, J. 2019. The changing environment: Efficiency, vulnerability and changes in land use in the South African Karoo, 2012-2014. Environmental Development, 32(2019):1-12 DOI:

COUSINS, B. 2008. Livestock production and common property struggles in South Africa’s agrarian reform. The journal of Peasant studies, 23(2):166-208 DOI:

CLOETE, S, W, P., OLIVIER, J, J, SANDENBERGH, L & SNYMAN, M, A. 2014. The adaption of the South Africa sheep industry to new trends in animal breeding and genetics: A review. South African Journal of Animal Science, 44(4):307-321 DOI:

D’HAESE, M, D., CALUS, M., KIRSTEN, J, F., VAN HUYLENBROECK, G., & BOSTYN, F. 2001. Efficiency Analysis of small-scale wool production in the Former Transkel South Africa, Agrekon, 40(4):641-655 DOI:

DUMANSKI, J., TERRY, E., BYERLEE, D., & PIERI, C. 1998. Performance indicators for sustainable Agriculture. Discussion note. Rural Development Sector. The World Bank. Washington, D.C.

FAO (FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ORGANISATION). Government Cooperative Programme (1998). Improving Information on Women’s Contributions to Agricultural Production for Gender Sensitive Planning. Project Findings and Recommendations; FAO: Rome, Italy. 1-10

GAYATRI, S., TORTOJADA, V, G, & VAARST, M. 2016. Assessing sustainability of smallholder beef cattle farming in Indonesia: A case study using FAO SAFA Framework. Journal of Sustainable Development, 9. (3): Department for Animal science. Aarhus University. Denmark DOI:

HANTAM MUNICIPALITY ANNUAL REPORT. 2015-2016. Republic of South Africa

HAYATI, D., RANJBAR, Z., & KARAMI, E. 2010. Measuring agricultural sustainability Lichtfouse (Ed) Biodiversity, biofuels, Agroforestry and conservation agriculture. Sustainable Agriculture reviews. 5:73-100 DOI:

HOFFMAN, T, M., & TODD, S. 2000. A National Review of Land Degradation in South Africa: The influence of biophysical and socio-economic factors, Journal of Southern African Studies, 26(4):743-758 DOI:

JORDAN, A, J., SAKULSKI, D & JORDAN, A, D. 2013. Interdisciplinary drought risk assessment for agriculture: The case of communal farmers in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Agriculture extension, 41:44-58

KADZERE, C, T. (1996). Animal Production Level-A Measure of Social Development in Southern Africa. Journal of Social Development in Africa. 11(1):17-31

KONGOLO, M. & DLAMINI, D, K. 2012. Small-scale livestock farming in developing areas of Swaziland and South Africa. AFRREV STECH. An International Journal of Science and Technology, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.1 (3):100-111

LEBACQ, T., PHILIPPE, V., BARET, V., & STILMANT, D. 2013. Sustainability indicators for livestock farming. A review. Agronomy. Sustainable. Development. 33:311-327 DOI:

MCDERMOTT, J. J., STAAL, H.A., FREEMAN, M., HERRERO, M, & VAN DER STEEG, J.A. 2010. Sustaining Intensification of smallholder livestock systems in the Tropics. Livestock Science, 130(1-3):95-109 DOI:

MOLOTSI, A., DUBE, B., OOSTING, S., MARANDURE, T., MAPIYE, C., CLOETE, S., & DZAMA, K. 2017. Genetic traits of relevance to sustainability of smallholder sheep farming systems in South Africa. Sustainability review. 9(1225):1-18 DOI:

MORRIS, S, T. 2009. Economics of sheep production. Small ruminant research, 86(2009):59-62. DOI:

NGUFOR, L, A., TREYDTE, A, C, BIRNER, R. 2013. Assessing the sustainability of different small- scale livestock production systems in the Afar Region, Ethiopia. Land, 2:726-755 DOI:

RAO, N. H. & Rogers, P.P. 2006. Assessment of Agricultural Sustainability. Current Science, 91(4):439-448

SNYMAN, H.A. 1998. Literature review. Dynamics and sustainable utilization of rangeland ecosystems in arid and semi-arid climates of Southern Africa. 39:645-666 DOI:

SNYMAN, M, A. and HERSELMAN, M, J. 2005. Comparison of productive and reproductive efficiency of Afrino, Dorper and Merino sheep in the False Upper Karoo, South African Journal of Animal Science, 35(2):98-108

STANDARD BANK. 2013. Finance and Farm Management. Fifth edition. Standard bank Agribusiness SA. Johannesburg

SWARTS, M. & ALIBER, M. 2013. The ‘youth and agriculture’ problem: Implications for rangeland development. African Journal of Range and Forage Science, 30(1-2): 23-27 DOI:

TODD, S, W. & HOFFMAN, M, T. 1999. A fence-line contrast reveals effects of heavy grazing on plant diversity and community composition in Namaqualand, South Africa. Plant Ecology, 142:169-178 DOI:

TODD, S., MILTON, S., DEAN, R., CARRICK, P., & MEYER, A. 2009. Ecological Best- Practice Livestock Production Guidelines for the Namakwa District. Draft 1. 6-58

VAN CAUWENBERGH, N., BIALA, K., BIELDERS, C., BROUCKAERT, V., FRANCHOIS, L., GARCIA CIDAD, V., HERMY, M., MATHIJS, E., MUYS, B., REIJNDERS, J., SAUVENIER, X., VALCKX, J., VANCLOOSTER, M., VAN DER VEKEN., WAUTERS, E., PEETERS, A. 2007. SAFE-A hierarchical framework for assessing the sustainability of agricultural systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 120:229-242 DOI:

VAN DER MERWE, H., VAN ROOYEN, M. W & VAN ROOYEN, N. 2008. Vegetation of the Hantam-Tangua-Roggeveld Subregion, South Africa. Part 2: Succulent Karoo Biome Related Vegetation. Department of Plant Science. 50(1)160-183 DOI:

VAN DER MERWE, H., and VAN ROOYEN. M, W. 2011. Life form spectra in the Hantam- Tangua-Roggeveld, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, 77(2011):371-380 DOI:

WATER RESEARCH COMMISSION AND SOUTH AFRICAN WEATHER SERVICE. 2017. A climate change reference atlas based on CMIP5-CORDEX downscaling

WILSON, A, D., and MACLEOD, N, D. 1991. Overgrazing: Present or absent? Journal of Range Management, 44(5):475-482 DOI:

WRZASZCZ, W, & PRANDECKI, K. 2015. Assessment of agricultural sustainability. Current science, 91:4 DOI:

ZHEN, L & ROUTRAY, J, K. 2003. Operational indicators for measuring agricultural sustainability in developing countries. Environmental management, 32(1):34-46 DOI:

ZINCK, J, A, BERROTERAN, J, L, FARSHAD, A, MOAMENI, A, WOKUBI, A. & VAN RANST, E. 2002. Approaches to assessing sustainable Agriculture. Ciencia del su. 20(2):55-68




How to Cite

Zenda, M., & Malan, P. (2021). The sustainability of small-scale sheep farming systems in the Northern Cape (Hantam Karoo), South Africa. South African Journal of Agricultural Extension (SAJAE), 49(1), 105–121.