Introduction to
Conservation Farming

Conservation in South Africa

South Africa has an exceptionally rich natural diversity of plants and animals. Although the country represents only about 0,8% of the Earth's land surface area, more than 8% of all plants grow in South Africa. It is also home to between 2% and 7% of the world's amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Only 6% of South Africa's land surface area is formally conserved, far less than the figure of 10% recommended by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In South Africa, wild animals enjoy greater protection than plants, with about 90% of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals being found in nature reserves. However, there are so many different natural vegetation types that some are very poorly conserved. Depending on the vegetation type, only 34% to 74% of plant species occur in nature reserves.

Farmers manage about 80% of the land in South Africa. Although many farmers have developed land use practices that conserve biodiversity, agriculture can also damage the environment and threaten biodiversity. Because our network of nature reserves is inadequate, any national conservation assessment or strategy must take account of the role of farmers in conservation.

The Conservation Farming Project

The National Botanical Institute is co-ordinating the Conservation Farming Project, supported by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and Mazda Wildlife Fund.

The Conservation Farming Project aims to:

  • Assess the ecological and economic costs and benefits of various agricultural practices, including both conventional and conservation farming methods.
  • Promote land use practices that conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods for farmers and rural communities.

The Botanical Society of South Africa has instituted a programme to lobby for greater incentives for private landowners should they choose to practice conservation-friendly forms of landuse. For more information, click here.


The project has chosen four areas with high biodiversity and insufficient reserves as study sites. The effects of various land use practices in these areas will be determined by researchers, and attitudes of local farmers to various aspects of land use management will be assessed. Once data from the four study sites are available, an economic model will be developed to assess the benefits of conservation farming, both for the farmer, and for the environment.

More detailed accounts of aspects of the project may be found by following the links below:

  • Biodiversity: the benefits of increased biodiversity on farms for farmers and everyone else.
  • Soils: how conservation farming improves soil structure and improves production.
  • Ecosystem services: how healthy ecosytem processes provide services to all.
  • Carbon sequestration: how to lower atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and so reduce global warming.
  • Economic incentives: why it pays to have a healthy environment.
  • Putting conservation farming into practice: getting farmers' views on conservation farming, and improving the flow of information to farmers.
Mazda Wildlife Fund


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