Desertification Research

Natural Resource Management and Rural Livelihoods in Paulshoek, Namaqualand.

[Background] [Areas of Research] [Project outputs]

The primary aim of the project is to investigate the links between natural resource management and rural livelihoods in a communally managed Succulent Karoo ecosystem.


This study is being undertaken in Paulshoek, a rural village in the Leliefontein Communal Reserve in central Namaqualand. There are currently nine communal areas in Namaqualand, which constitute 26% of Namaqualand and support 45% of the population. Paulshoek village has a population of approximately 1000 people and consists of about 140 households. Many of the villagers are unemployed and rely heavily on state pensions and welfare grants or remittances from relatives working in nearby towns or coastal diamond mines. The high rate of unemployment also means that the people must rely heavily on the local natural resources. The 20 000 ha commons surrounding Paulshoek provides both fuelwood for the village and grazing for livestock. It is the links between the rural livelihoods of the people and natural resources of Paulshoek that are the primary concern of this project. The project is currently funded in part by the European Commission until December 2000, but we hope to continue our research in the area well beyond this date.


Areas of Research

Our research in Paulshoek has been focussed around the following major areas:

Livestock industry

The majority of households in Paulshoek benefit in some way from keeping livestock. In addition to the village of Paulshoek, about 30 stock posts are also scattered around the 20 000 ha commons. The stockposts range from being permanent encampments that have been continuously occupied for more than 50 years, to semi-nomadic and easily dismantled shelters which are moved every few months, depending on local water and grazing conditions.

A typical stock post consists of a kraal, a cooking shelter (kookskerm) and one or more huts to sleep in, depending on the number of people occupying the stock post. Local community members and stock farmers have been involved in collecting detailed stock census records since 1998. Stock post location, stock numbers, births, deaths and sales are all monitored on a monthly basis. The photograph below shows the landscape with stock post.


Although less important than in the past, cropping still forms an important part of the agricultural production system of Paulshoek farmers. Wheat, barley, oats and rye are grown largely for livestock fodder and stubble grazing after the harvest. About 27 "saaipersele" or demarcated cropping areas are leased to individual farmers who either work the land themselves or allow sharecroppers access to the land.

Not all cropping areas are planted every year and crop failure due to drought is common. Until very recently donkey ploughs were used exclusively to till the soil but tractors now largely perform this function.

Grazing Impacts

There are no controls on the number of animals farmers may keep and together with the large number of farmers, who must share the commons, the stocking rate in Paulshoek usually far exceeds that recommended by the South African Department of Agriculture. Our data indicates that, on average, more than twice the recommended number of sheep and goats have been kept on Paulshoek for the past 30 years. As there are few fences in Paulshoek, the entire area is also continuously grazed, with the consequence that much of Paulshoek has become badly overgrazed. Several studies investigating the impacts of grazing on the biodiversity of the region have been completed and the results published. These studies indicate that while there has apparently been little impact on the overall species richness (total number of species) in Paulshoek, there have been substantial changes in community structure (species mix).

The cover of palatable shrubs, particularly leaf succulent shrubs, has decreased in Paulshoek, shown here on the right hand side of the fence, while annual plants and unpalatable shrubs such as the toxic Galenia africana have increased. In addition, for arthropods (insects, scorpions and spiders) the abundance of disturbance adapted species, such as ants, has increased as have some granivorous (seed eating) types such as certain beetles. The loss of shrub cover in Paulshoek has also promoted nocturnal rodents such as gerbils over diurnal types. Similarly, for birds, several seed eating species have increased while others dependent on shrubs for nesting or foraging have decreased.


Alternative livelihoods, not dependent on agricultural production, may help to raise household incomes and alleviate poverty in the region.

To this end, a cultural campsite, which focuses on the ecotourism potential of Namaqualand, has been established at the initiative of the villagers. The campsite consists of traditional matjieshuts (reed huts), kookskerms (cooking shelters) and clay ovens in a picturesque setting overlooking the impressive Paulshoek landscape. Visitors are welcomed and enquiries can be made at 02792 ext 3504. More information is also available at http://


As Paulshoek does not have electricity and the villagers are generally very poor, villagers rely primarily on fuelwood resources for their energy needs. Research indicates that inhabitants spend about 4½ hours every day collecting wood and each household uses about 2 tonnes of wood every year. Oral histories suggest that fuelwood species have declined in abundance since the 1940's.

Water Resources

Paulshoek is located in an arid landscape receiving about 200 mm of rain per year.

Water is thus always a welcome sight and here children play in a seasonal stream replenished by winter rains falling on the nearby Kamiesberg mountains. The village relies primarily on water supplied from boreholes. Although the water supply system has recently been upgraded through initiatives of the RDP, frequent problems with supply means that people still occasionally have to rely on the dug wells, which exist in the village. Apart from the problems with supply, the water quality is also very low, the salinity and flouride concentrations frequently exceeding the recommended limits for human consumption.

Project outputs

The following peer-reviewed articles, theses, conference proceedings, popular articles and unpublished reports have either been submitted or published since the project was initiated in October 1997.

1. Allsopp, N. 1999. Effects of grazing and cultivation on soil patterns and processes in Namaqualand. Plant Ecology 142 (1-2).

2. Carrick, P. 1998. Grazing and competition mediated community dynamics in the central succulent Karoo, South Africa. Unpublished first year report, Department of Botany, Cambridge University, Cambridge. 24 pp.

3. Hoffman, M.T., Cousins, B., Meyer, T., Petersen, A. & Hendricks, H. 1999. Historical and contemporary agricultural landuse and the desertification of the Karoo. In: Dean, W.R.J. & Milton, S. (eds). The Karoo: Ecological Pattern and Process. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Pp. 257-273.

4. Joubert, D.F. 1998. Small mammal and bird community structure in commercial and communal rangelands in a semi-arid shrubland in Namaqualand, South Africa. Unpublished MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, Cape Town. 39 pp.

5. Joubert, D.F. & Ryan, P.J. 2000. Differences in mammal and bird assemblages between commercial and communal rangelands in the Succulent Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Arid Environments 43 (In press).

6. Moinde, N.N. 1998. The effects of Galenia africana on dominant perennial plant species in Namaqualand, South Africa. Unpublished MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, Cape Town. 31 pp.

7. R.G. Wyn Jones, E.M. Young, M.T. Hoffman, L. Magole, A. Petersen, J. Arntzen, M. Majoro. Global Change and Subsistence Rangelands in Southern Africa: An outline of a European Union funded project. Proceedings of conference "Policy-making for the sustainable use of southern African communal rangelands" held at the University of Fort Hare, 6-9 July 1998.

8. Rohde, R., Cousins, B. & Hoffman, M.T. 1999. Experiments in expanding the commons - Comparisons from Namibia and South Africa. Proceedings of International Symposium on Property Rights, Risk and Livestock Development held at Feldafing, Germany, 27 September to 1 October 1998.

9. Rohde, R., Cousins, B. & Hoffman, M.T. 1999. Experimenting with the commons: A comparative history of the effects of land policy on pastoralism in two former 'reserves' in Namibia and South Africa. Occasional Paper No. 12: Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies, School of Government, University of the Western Cape. Pp. 1-32.

10. Seymour, C. 1998. Different grazing intensities in arid rangelands: effects on invertebrates on a communal farm in the succulent karoo, South Africa. Unpublished MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, Cape Town. 36 pp.

11. Seymour, C.L. & Dean W.R.J. 2000. Effects of heavy grazing on invertebrate assemblages in the Succulent Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Arid Environments 43 (In press).

12. Todd, S.W. 2000. Patterns of seed production and shrub association in two palatable Karoo shrub species under contrasting land use intensities. African Journal of Range and Forage Science (In press).

13. 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 (1-2): 169-178.

14. Todd, S.W. & Hoffman, M.T. 1998. Communal rangelands in semi-arid South Africa. Veld & Flora 84(3): 82. September 1998.

15. Todd, S.W. & Hoffman, M.T. 1998. Fence in and nowhere to go. Veld & Flora 84(3): 84-85. September 1998.

16. Todd, S.W. & Hoffman, M.T. (In press). Correlates of stocking rate and overgrazing in the Leliefontein Communal Reserve, central Namaqualand. African Journal of Range and Forage Science.

17. Todd, S.W., Seymour, C., Joubert, D.F., & Hoffman, M.T. 1998. Communal Rangelands and Biodiversity: Insights from Paulshoek, Namaqualand. Proceedings of conference "Policy-making for the sustainable use of southern African communal rangelands" held at the University of Fort Hare, 6-9 July 1998.

18. Todd, S.W., Seymour, C.L., Joubert, D.F. & Hoffman, M.T. 2000. Impacts of livestock grazing in the semi-arid Succulent Karoo, South Africa: Effects on plant, invertebrate, small mammal and bird species richness and community structure. Conservation Biology. (Submitted October 1999).

Besides the publications listed above, the Paulshoek study also features prominently in a 30 minute video entitled "Season of hope" produced by Lawrence Dworkin. This video was commissioned by South Africa's National Action Programme to Combat Desertification (NAPCD) and was shown at the national launch of the NAPCD on 17 June 1998, in Pretoria.

The contents for the desertification pages of this site was provided by Simon Todd & Timm Hoffman.

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