I have been working with agroecology for a few months now and have begun to understand the true strength of the concept. Agroecology is agriculture within ecological principles, focussing on food and natural systems and based upon traditional knowledge of growing and preparing traditional varieties of food. Perhaps one can describe it as a means of farming before agriculture was industrialised or commercialised. It is known as an alternative to the current agricultural model and does not rely on any industry to sustain itself, it needs no commercial seed or fertiliser, no chemical anything and definitely no poisons. It finds solutions to any hardships within the system, it is about community involvement, producing locally, buying locally, eating locally.
As is the case around most of the world, here in the south of Africa a LOT of our traditional varieties have been lost and we eat foreign food. The more research I do into the issue, looking back to what the land supplied before it was industrialised, the more I realise we actually have many indigenous varieties, plants and animals alike. It also begs the question of “What is indigenous?” because in these instances we mean not specifically local to South Africa. Often these are animals that have been bred from local species originally from higher up the continent that were brought down in the years before colonisation.
So as we know, farming and the basic domestication of certain plants and animals is centuries old, as the local populations moved around the Sub-Saharan areas of the continent, so too did these varieties.
Take the humble chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), much like the potato, chickens have been domesticated the world over. Originally from the South Asian subcontinent, the chicken was first bred from Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), a very elegant fowl from the Pheasant family.
[Photo’s: Sohnjoo’s Photography]
Thus indigenous African breeds of chicken are
- Ovambo (originating from the north of Namibia) which is a feisty breed. They are more aggressive than other breeds in that they can stand their ground against mongoose and are able to catch and kill rats and mice. They roost in trees and it’s a good idea to put their nests up high (even though it will be more work for you) as they have been known to nest in owl boxes. They are also darker in colour which may help in camouflage against raptors.
- Vendaare more localised to South Africa, their colouring is more speckled with black and white being dominant colours. Their combs are bright rose-red and they are also known to have five toes. These burly chickens are bred mostly for egg-laying.
[Photo: South Africa’s Indigenous Breeds]
- The Potchefstroom Koekoekchickens have been bred locally from the Black Australorp (an Australian breed) and the White Leghorn (or “Livorno”, an Italian breed laying white eggs) from the 1960’s to be more suitable to the Southern African environment.
- Mike Bosch runs Boschveld Farm where he is host to the indigenous Boschveldchicken crossed from Matabele, Ovambo and Venda breeds.
In his interview with Louise van der Merwe (the South African Representative for Compassion in World Farming), Mike describes his farming practises and interestingly how he started with these chickens, “Well, it all started about 10 years ago when the price of dip went up and I decided to try and replace dip to a large extent by breeding a chicken that would eat the ticks off my cattle at the water points. I experimented and eventually came up with the Boschveld Chicken which is an all-African indigenous cross-breed. The Boschveld Chicken has reduced the need for dipping from 26 times a year to 14 and because of this, there are fewer chemicals in the environment. I now have noticed that ox-peckers have returned to the farm too.” You can find out more about his truly free-range chickens [and the photo credit] at www.boschveldeggs.co.za
The idea of using indigenous breeds in our farming practice are, amongst other reasons, because they are naturally adapted to this environment and if allowed to live naturally, the need for all the commercial ‘necessities’ (things like antibiotics and hormones) fall away. Chickens naturally feed on certain plants, insects in all forms (grubs and maggots, larvae basically, being a delicacy), they’ll eat small rodents, frogs and even snakes. Their diets are wide and varied and domesticated chickens are often fed certain table scraps. When we inhibit their freedom of movement and habitat and begin to feed them controlled diets of grains day in and out, their health deteriorates and there is greater need for antibiotics, hormones and other stimulants.
http://www.indigenousbreeds.co.za/home speaks about the indigenous breeds of farmed animals in South Africa.