GRAAFF-REINET NUUS — The Herding Academy, facilitated on the St Olives Section of The Rupert Nature Reserve near Graaff-Reinet, is a holistic learning platform, where the ancient skill of herding livestock to sustainably conserve and manage land is shared.
With their first intake of students in January this year, The Herding Academy - a division of the SA College for Tourism (SACT) - is a first of its kind.
The academy is accredited as a training provider with CATHSSETA one of the sector education and training authorities of South Africa and as such, it is the first of its nature in South Africa. The training programme on offer to students, Captive Animal Care Giver/Land Management Herding, is registered with the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) on Level 2.
The establishment of this programme enables communities to regenerate livelihoods in rural areas through skills training, ecological regeneration, providing food security and economic welfare.
In line with global trends, South Africa is experiencing enormous social pressure and discourse due to environmental changes, drought and climate change with global ecological, social and economic consequences. The concept of opening borders for natural migrations to occur was founded through the Rupert family's conservation legacy of The Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), realising its vision of allowing natural herds to migrate and graze the African range-lands.
This philosophy eventually created an opportunity to understand the herd, hoof and migration effects of wild animals, and the use of domestic livestock combined with holistically-planned grazing was utilised to mimic these migrations. Allan Savory, through Jan Smuts' philosophy of Holism, advanced the role of natural and domestic herds to improve not only ecological resilience and climate change but also economic and social welfare in rural Africa and other parts of the world, by regenerating the soil through properly applied herd effect.
The Rupert Nature Reserve follows this philosophy in their Holistic Regenerative Wildlife Model.
The Herding Academy (with Allan Savory's patronage), the Peace Parks Foundation and the Southern African College for Tourism (SACT) have now brought the ancient culture of herding back to life through holistic planned grazing.
The Herding Academy is fortunate to have Conservation (SA), an affiliate of Conservation International, and PPF as partners in its endeavour to bring the ancient culture of herding back to life.
The homestead and outbuildings at the St Olives Section of The Rupert Nature Reserve where The Herding Academy is facilitated, have been handsomely restored, preserving the original architectural features and heritage - in keeping with The Reserve's no-waste policy.
During the renovations, existing wood, bricks, roof sheeting and other materials were upcycled and utilised. Except for the bathroom utilities and basic hardware, the entire project made use of materials that were already on the property.
The reinstated buildings provide a simple, practical and aesthetically pleasing environment for the institution they house.
The main building consists of staff and guest accommodation, a meeting room and the kitchen. Framed photographs of the original homestead and the renovation project adorn the walls, giving visitors a sense of the considered effort and pride taken in its preservation.
An external staircase leads to the lecture room and library, elegantly fitted into the attic of the house. Students are accommodated in "the dormitory", re-modelled from one of the out-buildings.
This boarding house consists of a kitchen, large living area, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Once again, the old-world charm has been preserved and one of the bedrooms still features an "owl window" which, back in the day, allowed the birds access to grain stores in aid of rodent control.
The living area walls display colourful posters reaffirming principals relating to the programme such as The Carbon Cycle, Soil Food Web and the all-important Water Cycle.
The Herding Academy students self-cater their breakfasts and packed lunches and return at the end of a busy day to a wholesome cooked meal which has been prepared for them.
The 1-year Captive Animal Care Giver/Land Management Herding programme is at foremost practical, and the theoretical component makes up about 20% of the course outline.
The curriculum was developed by SACT and is based on SAQA registered unit standards, the works of Alan Savory and other authorities in the field, i.a. Holistic Management International, the South African Biodiversity Institute, Meat Live Stock, Australia, Renu Karoo Veld Ecologist and the National Farm Animal Care Council of Canada.
The core modules within the programme are Conservation, Ecology, Animal Care and Research, while subjects such as Personal Growth & Leadership, Finance Management, Occupational Health and Hygiene are also taught. The Herding Academy has two lead facilitators/assessors: Sarah-Anne Cromhout (who is currently completing her master's degree in conservation at Nelson Mandela University focusing on "The short-term effects that high densities of sheep have on the Vegetation Composition, Landscape Functioning and Soil Properties"), and Roland Kroon – a long-time practitioner of holistic land management.
Guest trainers also share their knowledge, skills and expertise with the students.
The hands-on veld work is led by Gavin le Roux, Christopher Martins and Ryno Wagenaar, three of The Rupert Reserve’s best herders, who act as "evidence gatherers" for the lead assessors. Students are taught by the trio how to herd sheep to apply the hoof effect and mimic natural migration patterns over the property as determined by the level of degradation based on their own evidence.
In addition, students are exposed to other projects, within various areas of regenerative land management, that occur on The Reserve such as tracking, propagation of beneficial plants and meat processing.
Together, the students are responsible for The Herding Academy's vegetable garden and chicken coop which supplies the kitchen with fresh produce and teaches them principals of sustainability. The farm dam is stocked with tilapia and the students enjoy spending their leisure time fishing.
The Herding Academy constantly re-affirms the concepts of sustainability and conservation in its revitalisation of age-old skills, preservation of heritage, sharing of knowledge and care of ecology. It aptly stands perched over the vast Karoo landscape it aims to protect.
The Herding Academy's first students in front of the homestead at the St Olives Section of The Rupert Nature Reserve where The Herding Academy is facilitated.
The Herding Academy, facilitated on the St Olives Section of The Rupert Nature Reserve near Graaff-Reinet.
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