Game Farming In South Africa
The South African government is pushing to formalize and expand “game farming” (also known as wild animal ranching), arguing that it is more sustainable than conventional animal farming. In 2015, it released a national strategy to promote economic growth and biodiversity conservation, with the goal of being “the world’s preferred supplier of sustainably-sourced game meat” by 2030. This would increase the amount of land used for game meat by 50% and cause South Africa to produce up to 60,000 tons of meat per year.
However, it is far from obvious that game farming actually improves biodiversity. Few studies have documented how game farming affects the environment. Fenced farms fragment the habitat that animals need. Farmers kill predators that might harm valuable game species. Farms tend to concentrate animals together well above the carrying capacity.
In this study, researchers interviewed South African government and industry representatives about game farming. Their memo highlights its origins, driving factors, gaps in regulation, and socioeconomic consequences. The authors then offer six recommendations to make the industry more inclusive, sustainable, safe, and ethical in the future. Their report is written from a pro-industry perspective, but advocates may find some of the insights helpful for their anti-farming campaigns.
Surveying The Industry
There isn’t enough data to precisely estimate the size of the game industry in South Africa. However, there are an estimated 9,000-11,000 operations, with 16 to 20 million animals using 14-17% of South Africa’s land base.
Game farms earn money from wild animals through hunting, breeding, ecotourism, selling live game, and selling animal products. Most farms do more than one activity. In 2014, nearly 600,000 animals were killed on game farms, including both hunting and culling. Their meat was worth 611 million rand.
The authors’ first recommendation is to conduct a survey of the game industry. The survey should include both a map of the geographic extent of the industry and a more detailed collection of stakeholder viewpoints. A survey is essential to get a baseline to measure future impacts and to make the industry transparent.
Regulating The Industry
The South African game meat industry is poorly regulated. Regulations under the nation’s Meat Safety Act, which is intended to ensure food safety, have been in draft form since 2004.
The national and provincial governments often fail to cooperate when it comes to implementing regulations. According to the authors, the government is torn between the competing priorities of nature conservation and economic growth. Provinces also receive little funding to implement and enforce regulations. For example, the report found one province operating at a 70% vacancy rate to run its conservation programs after budget cuts. To complicate things further, the government has performed internal restructuring multiple times, changing oversight and responsibility for such regulation.
90-95% of the game meat for sale in South Africa comes from local hunters who process the meat at home. This meat is never inspected for safety. Because there are no regulations about domestic game meat inspections, inspectors usually follow the same procedures they use on game meat for export.
Attempts to implement voluntary certification schemes are typically viewed with skepticism, despite support from non-profits. The authors note that Conservation Outcomes, a non-profit organization, is developing the Harvest brand, a certification label that ensures animals are killed quickly with minimal pain and suffering, as well as other health and safety requirements.
Due to the uncertainties in this area, the authors’ second recommendation is to finalize game meat regulations and inspection processes, and to avoid scaling up game meat production until such protocols are in place.
Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion Concerns
White people dominate game farming, even twenty-five years after the end of apartheid. When conventional farms were converted to game farms, the Black laborers who previously worked the land were displaced. Today, Black hunters and game ranchers often point out that industry bodies neglect their interests and experiences.
Therefore, the authors’ third recommendation is to openly discuss the marginalization of Black people in game farming and to make efforts to include them more equitably in the industry.
Supporting Community Farms
Community game farms, which are run collectively by Black South Africans, formed to help Black people benefit from the success of the industry. Some of these farms were created through sustainable farming programs, while others have been created through a national land reform program. However, community game farms are plagued with problems.
All too often, the farms are controlled by the government rather than the beneficiaries. According to the authors, community game farm creators don’t pay attention to whether the people collectively running the farms actually make up a community. The state often insists that beneficiaries continue to run the farm as a game farm, even if they don’t want to. Even though these community farms attempt to support Black economic empowerment, the government acknowledges that they have failed.
The authors’ fourth recommendation is to create a supportive advisory unit to advise game farm beneficiaries on creating farms in a way that protects their autonomy and offers them better livelihoods.
Repealing Harmful Policies
In 2019, the South African government amended the Animal Improvement Act in 2019 to reclassify 32 wild animal species as “farm animals.” The reclassification allows more intensive breeding of wild animals for meat production. The amendment has triggered legal action against the government by the non-profit organization Endangered Wildlife Trust. They argue that it conflicts with other South African laws supporting biodiversity and creates genetic, ecological, and economic risks.
Intensive breeding harmed the game farming industry in the past. Further, it’s bad for the environment. Intensively or selectively breeding endangered species may reduce their genetic diversity. It also leads to animal overstocking, and it might cause non-native species to be introduced far beyond their natural ranges.
Therefore, the fifth recommendation is to repeal the changes to the Animal Improvement Act.
Marketing The Industry
The report claims that South Africans typically don’t eat game meat, with the exception of dried products from traditional biltong hunting. Fresh game meat is usually more expensive, and people are not familiar with how to cook it. Most people in the region prefer beef and mutton.
The game farming industry wants to market game meat as a premium product and to help with food insecurity in South Africa — however, these goals conflict. The authors argue that the industry needs to develop two different kinds of game meat products, including an affordable one for low-income consumers. Their final recommendation involves implementing a marketing strategy that appeals to consumers of varying income levels.
While many of the recommendations in this report are pro-industry, the insights are helpful as they highlight some of the serious problems associated with game farming in South Africa. While game farming supporters claim that the industry protects the environment and empowers Black South Africans, it appears that the reality is different.
As the government and industry insiders seek to scale up game farming and production, animal advocates can simultaneously make the South African public aware of the state of the industry. For the sake of animal, environmental, and human justice, it’s important for the South African government to consider alternative, more humane sources of revenue and jobs in the agriculture sector.