She stands just over five feet tall, but Judih Isele is a formidable women and farmer extraordinaire.
The young entrepreneur has now also made history by being the first woman to be crowned Young Farmer of the Year at last week’s Namibian Agricultural Union (NAU)’s 69th annual congress. With her holistic approach to all farming activities on farm Springbockvley, south-east of Witvlei, the energetic woman has also drastically increased production and profits per hectare through Rangeland Management on the farm. She has highlighted how sustainable livestock farming in semiarid regions greatly depend on the sound management of the natural rangeland as the resource for livestock sustenance.
Isele says contrary to the trend in conventional and industrial agriculture, the outcome of a case study supports an approach that focuses on combined herd performance, i.e. overall animal production per hectare. She points out that planned grazing on Springbockvley has made it possible to increase stocking rates over the years. This has been achieved in spite of inconsistent rainfall which, since 1989, varied between a minimum of 60 mm (in 1995) and a maximum of 680 mm (in 2011). Stocking rates also varied from a minimum of only 17 kg live animal mass per hectare during the severe drought of 1995 to 48 kg live animal mass per hectare stocked by 2014.
“The trend in the stocking rate curves accompanied by healthy rangelands point to sustainable management practices resulting from proper soil preparation and plant treatment which aim to provide forage of more consistent quality and quantity even in years of low rainfall,” she notes.
She adds that since 1995, a remarkable off-take of meat production per hectare of more than one third of the stocking rate was and is maintained and compares well with those of areas with higher production capabilities.
“Treated with low stress livestock handling techniques, the adapted and indigenous cattle and sheep in combination with strict financial planning and the approach of controlling costs while maintaining income, produces profit provide high efficiency of production,” she informs. Since 1997, farming income improved steadily with constant levels of farming expenses of about one third of the income.
Such results can only be achieved with strict and disciplined financial management practises, as mostly human beings tend to spend money more easily as soon as income increases.
Isele concludes that as an effect of climate change weather conditions in semiarid regions tend to become more extreme and farmers will probably be hit more often by severe droughts in the near future. In low rainfall areas as prevalent in Namibia, natural circumstances favour extensive livestock farming on the basis of free range grazing on indigenous vegetation. In these rangeland based systems, animal husbandry and especially adaptability of livestock to their specific circumstances are of utmost importance. Being unable to convert high cellulose plant material into animal produce, ruminants are simultaneously ‘gardeners of their own food’. Animals, the plants they eat and the soil in which these grow, are irrevocably linked and interdependent. None of them can be in a healthy state without the other one flourishing just as well. High stock density helps to feed the soil by returning some of the nutrient containing dry and green plant material to the soil building resilience and production potential,” she says
Isele farms with Nguni cattle and Damara sheep, applying the principles of holistic management and organic farming.