Ram project illustrates what small-scale wool growers can do

The success of the commercial and communal farmers’ ram breeding project in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa had a direct effect on the volume of wool contributed by communal farmers in the 2013/2014 season, with an increase of 400 000 kg.

This article was published in the Afrikaans magazine, Landbouweekblad, of 26 September 2014. africanfarming.com is planning a follow-up visit to these farmers later this year.

The Eastern Cape ram breeding project entails rams from group breeding schemes on neighbouring farms being selected and donated to communal and small-scale farmers. It is being seen as one of the most successful agricultural upliftment projects in South Africa.

It involves producer organisations and commercial farmers assisting the communal and emerging farmers in the improvement of wool and sheep production, and placing these farmers’ produce in the mainstream.

In 2013 the communal and emerging farmers received 2 935 rams thanks to this project. By 2014 the farmers had already received a total of 36 791 rams since 2002, when the scheme was launched.

The project is characterised by the excellent and unique co-operation between commercial farmers, producer organisations and the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Harry Prinsloo, who was the chairman of the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) in 2014, was a speaker at the 2014 annual conference of the Communal Wool Growers Association (CWGA)  in Fletcherville in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. He said that wool volumes had improved from 3.4 million kilograms valued at R131 million in the 2012/13 season, to 3.8 million kilograms valued at R138 million in the 2013/14 season. (In the 2015/16 season these volumes showed even more significant growth with wool volumes of 4.5 million kilograms valued at R234 million that was delivered by communal farmers.)


Harry Prinsloo (right), chairman of the NWGA in 2014, and O.Z. Ntshakaza, chairman of the Eastern Cape CWGA in 2014.

More than 1 200 communal and emerging farmers from four districts in the former Ciskei and Transkei attended the conference.

“This is a great achievement. We must continue with the ram project as it has a lot of potential. However, we need assistance,” said Harry.

He went on to say that commercial farmers are more than willing to assist communal farmers. The project requires about 9 000 rams per year and has the potential to double the income generated from wool.

With the co-operation of the Department of Rural Development And Land Reform, the NWGA planned to erect 18 shearing sheds. The first nine shearing sheds were completed by the end of November 2014 and the next nine by April 2015.

There are roughly 15 000 communal sheep farmers in South Africa, of which the majority are in the Eastern Cape. According to Leon de Beer, general manager of the NWGA, they produce between 5-6 million kilograms of wool per year. About 3.8 million kilograms of that reaches the formal market. This means they contribute about 8% of South Africa’s estimated clip of about 50 million kilograms per year.

Leon says that with the right help and support this can be doubled.

A lack of fencing that makes disease control and grazing management almost impossible is one of the main challenges for communal farmers in Mount Fletcher.


Communal farmers have many challenges, including a lack of fences, inadequate disease control, limited access to shearing sheds, a shortage of sorting tables and a serious lack of infrastructure such as roads and electricity.

O.Z. Ntshakaza, who was the chairman of the Eastern Cape CWGA in 2014 , said their major goal is to reduce losses due to predators by 80%. Stray dogs are one of the farmers’ biggest problems because they don’t have camps. This prevents them from implementing adequate disease control and managing grazing efficiently. There is also a lack of law enforcement to apprehend stock thieves and a lack of accountability for accepting losses. Communal farmers suffer millions of rands’ worth of losses annually due to theft, and even shorn wool is stolen.

South Africa has about 15 000 communal sheep farmers. The majority of them live in the Eastern Cape.

The CWGA would like to improve flock identification among the farmers with a branding and tattoo program and to improve the current pound management. They are willing to work with the SA Police to improve the prosecution of offenders.

The CWGA have also requested that municipal laws are improved to limit problem animals and prevent stock theft. Most stock is stolen by “speculators” that enter communal areas and have free access to the flocks. There is also a problem to secure the border with neighbouring Lesotho.

O.Z. said that the communal farmers are very grateful for the government’s and the NWGA’s assistance with the genetic improvement that has taken place thanks to the ram project.

“The ram project has improved the quality of the lambs, the lamb percentages and the wool production. The quality of the wool is also better and along with that the famers’ income has improved.”

However, he is still concerned that there are not enough rams for all the ewes.


The CWGA is also worried about the redistribution of property and the manner in which individuals acquire land.

“How does the process work to become eligible for land? The Department of Agriculture has a list of farmers that wish to acquire individual ownership, but nothing has come of that.”

Mlibo Qoboshiyane, MEC for Rural Development and Land Reform, said that the farmers must stand up for themselves and do things for themselves and not wait for the government to give them everything.

He promised that the government would listen to the farmers’ requests and that attention would be given to the issues around infrastructure such as the lack of dip tanks and shearing sheds.

Altogether R46 million was budgeted for the erecting of dip tanks. Ownership and fencing would also get attention. “In addition, young people from the community must be encouraged to study agriculture and veterinary science,” he said.

Mlibo called for more research and continued co-operation between all the interested parties.


• Bernard Makhabahe is a communal farmer who farms in difficult conditions with around 300 sheep near Bethania in the Makgwaseng district of the Eastern Cape. Bernard says that his biggest problem is the control of his flock. “We don’t have camps, the sheep wander around and it is difficult to combat diseases like that.”

He would like to have his own piece of land and camps. “We would all like to have wire so that we can make camps to keep our stock safe. We would also like to have more shearing sheds so that we don’t have to go so far to have our sheep shorn,” he says. He says he got a good ram from a stud in Smithfield and managed to improve the wool yield per sheep from 1.9kg to 3kg.

Bernard says he is very grateful for the good co-operation between the commercial farmers and the communal farmers and can see a rosy future for himself in the business. He would like to improve his wool yield even more and acquire more sheep.

• The last wool season was very good for Mhletlotlo Mahadika. Mhletlotlo farms with 1 000 sheep near the Lesotho border. His biggest problem is theft and stray dogs. He loses many sheep each year due to this and also due to illnesses because without camps he can’t control his flock as he would like to.

However, he remains optimistic. “The NWGA helps us a lot and the people here at the conference help us to improve our farming. It is wonderful that everybody could come here.”

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