GAME farming and hunting is becoming an increasingly important pillar in the economic development of the country, with an enormous capacity to improve the social, economic and cultural life of local communities, a study says.
According to Prof Melville Saayman, a specialist in t ourism e conomics, management and development at North West University, the study's results have dismissed myths about the perceived negative effects of game farming, the quality of its jobs and its input to the economy as compared to conventional livestock farming.
About 20,5-million hectares (17%) of South African land are used for wildlife ranching and conservation, compared to 72,6-million hectares (59%) for commercial agriculture. About 200000 South Africans take part in hunting as a recreational activity.
In a survey that measured the contribution of the industry in provincial economies using the Northern Cape as a case study, provincial government and private sector investment in the development and promotion of the industry resulted in game and hunting farming being valued at R774,3m, according to 2007-08 figures.
With regard to the employment benefits in the Northern Cape, the survey sample indicates that hunting establishments employ about 5180 workers.
In terms of direct employment, 2486 (48%) are coloured, 2176 (42%) are black and 518 (10%) white, of which 134 are active professional hunters, while 67 are active hunting operators.
The province has at least two active black hunting operators and 15 active black professional hunters.
The average farm size in the Northern Cape on which hunting is conducted is 6145ha, w hile hunting establishments have been operational on average for 16 years, dating back to the first democratic election .
The Northern Cape hunting fraternity provides a bed capacity of 11972 beds, with the average bed occupancy rate standing at 48% a year. This is about 10% lower than the South African norm. However, the study highlights the fact that hunting is seasonal.
Prof Saayman says the figures show that provinces and the national Department of Tourism need to "promote the industry aggressively". "It is a job creator and an active contributor to rural development," he says.
Asked about the tension between stock farmers and game farmers due to suspicion that game animals are carriers of disease detrimental to cows, sheep and goats, Prof Saayman says the two can coexist and in most instances animals can even be mingled without one kind exposing the other to any danger.
He says there is sufficient evidence and knowledge to properly manage animals such as blue and black wildebeest, which have to be separated from domesticated stock.
Animals such as the kudu, springbok and antelope have co- existed for hundreds of years alongside farming stock.
Most hunting for biltong is carried out in Limpopo (37%), followed by the Northern Cape (15%) and North West (14%). Of the animals most frequently hunted, springbok top the list, followed by impala, blesbok , kudu and warthog.
Other provinces being studied include Limpopo and the Free State, where the industry has been gaining momentum.
Results are expected later this year.
In the technical report on the state of the wildlife-hunting and safari industry in the Waterberg district in Limpopo, Theo Venter of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association says there is limited infrastructure available in the country to certify game meat according to the Red Meat Safety Act.
Game farmers are proposing investment in infrastructure to provide proper certification and processing services to the sector on a bigger scale.
He says less than 5% of the total game population is estimated to be of trophy hunting quality, despite the high demand for trophy animals.
"A trophy animal refers primarily to mature males of an appropriate quality, of which there are only so many."
"This is a constraint on the future growth of the sector as it is bound by the total size of the industry's game population," Mr Venter says.
Government needs to promote the industry .. It is a job creator and contributor to rural development