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Livestock-game farming regime shift

Main Contributors:

Therezah Achieng

Other Contributors:

Kristi Maciejewski, Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, Michelle Dyer


The trend of land use changing from livestock farming to game farming in the Eastern Cape has been on the rise since the 1980s (Lloyd et al., 2002), and has major implications for biodiversity and a wide variety of ecosystem services and human wellbeing (Sun & Müller, 2014). The growth in game farming was boosted by free market policies and renewed conservation interests in the 1970s, coupled with the introduction of stock reduction schemes after the prolonged drought of the 1960s, which lowered cattle prices (Smith & Wilson, 2002). Prior to converting into game farms, land use in Amakhala game reserve in the Eastern Cape was predominantly agrarian, including chicory and maize farming, livestock farms and different forms of subsistence farming. Large portions of land were used for commercial livestock farming, mostly stocked with sheep and goat. Farmworkers and farm dwellers were able to move about the land and formed a community; that is, they interacted and shared residential areas, social and cultural activity spaces on the livestock farms. However, these interactions changed with the erection of fences to farm game animals, and the relocation of farm workers to nearby towns and centres. The nature of social relations also changed and the concept of a ‘community’ on the game farms took on very different characteristics. The current land use (game farming), has been reorganized into new structures and functions that accommodate tourism industry (construction of lodges and tourist facilities) and maximize profit. This reconfiguration had ecological, social, economic and cultural implications on human wellbeing.   One way in which this regime shift has been interpreted is that; livestock farming was more about people on the inside (farmers and dwellers), while game farming is seen to be more about people on the outside (visitors).

Type of regime shift

  • Livestock farming to game farming

Ecosystem type

  • Agro-ecosystems

Land uses

  • Small-scale subsistence crop cultivation
  • Intensive livestock production (eg feedlots, dairies)
  • Extensive livestock production (natural rangelands)
  • Conservation
  • Tourism

Spatial scale of the case study

  • Local/landscape (e.g. lake, catchment, community)

Continent or Ocean

  • Africa


  • Southern Africa


  • South Africa

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Key direct drivers

  • Environmental shocks (eg floods)

Land use

  • Small-scale subsistence crop cultivation
  • Intensive livestock production (eg feedlots)
  • Extensive livestock production (rangelands)
  • Conservation
  • Tourism


Ecosystem type

  • Agro-ecosystems


  • Biodiversity

Provisioning services

  • Freshwater
  • Food crops
  • Livestock
  • Wild animal and plant products
  • Woodfuel

Cultural services

  • Recreation

Human Well-being

  • Food and nutrition
  • Livelihoods and economic activity
  • Security of housing & infrastructure
  • Cultural, aesthetic and recreational values
  • Cultural identity
  • Social conflict

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • Good health and well-being
  • Gender equality
  • Decent work and economic growth

Key Attributes

Spatial scale of RS

  • Local/landscape

Time scale of RS

  • Years
  • Decades


  • Hysteretic


  • Contemporary observations

Confidence: Existence of RS

  • Contested – Reasonable evidence both for and against the existence of RS

Confidence: Mechanism underlying RS

  • Well established – Wide agreement on the underlying mechanism

Alternate regimes

Livestock farming: This regime was characterised by livestock farms where sheep, goats and dairy were kept mainly for commercial purposes. The livestock farms also served as homes to different group of dwellers including workers and farmers, alongside their families. Food was easily produced because there was space to grow own vegetables and keep poultry, hunt game meat and harvest fuelwood. The regime also provided security of space and livelihoods and valued social and community interactions. There was also ownership of assets (e.g. livestock) at individual level, especially to workers.

Game farming: This regime is characterised by introduction of fences that caged in purchased wild animals, both extralimital and local species (Maciejewski & Kerley, 2014), introduced to attract foreign visitors (Maciejewski, 2012). It also involves establishment of lodges, camping sites, recreational facilities and other tourist preference facilities to maximize economic outcome. This reorganization limits or does not accommodate residential use, especially of farm workers, (i) due to security concerns of dangerous wild animals such as lions, leopards and cheetah, (ii) the need to conserve biodiversity, hence keep the land use as purely conservational, (iii) almost irreversible mind shift, political and management configurations that have shaped game farming in South Africa.

Drivers and causes of the regime shift

Interviews by Achieng (2018) revealed that decision by farmers to convert from livestock to game farming was primarily influenced by a six-year drought that occurred between 1989-1995. The prolonged drought led to the drying up of the Bushman’s River, along with other water sources that sustained livestock on the farms. The quality and quantity of cultivated and natural pasture for livestock was also reduced by the drought. As a result, the market value of livestock products declined in quality and quantity (Jones et al., 2005; Smith & Wilson, 2002). The resulting economic pressures influenced the farmers decision to convert their pastoral land into game farms.

Farmers’ decision to shift into game farming was profit driven and included the fear of losing land to communities through expropriation as part of the ongoing national process of land reform in South Africa. According to Achieng et al., (2020),  change to game farming was a ‘selfish’ act, related to individual farmers’ fear of sharing or losing their land. This positively reinforced farmer’s ‘greed’ and increased their desire to adopt game farming as a strategy to legitimize their position as game farmers. The shift to game farming also centred around the conservation benefits of game farming industry. Landowners saw game farming practice as a sustainable land use that increases the protected area estate and contributes to the conservation of biodiversity.

How the regime shift worked

The incremental adoption of game farming in the Eastern cape catalysed the spread of ideas and motivations for this model. Soon, neighbouring farms such as Shamwari Game Reserve, started converting their pastoral land into game farms. These new farms’ success, which was perceived to be generating more profit, made game farming increasingly attractive to the surrounding neighbours. As farm conversion gradually spread among livestock farmers in the areas, the idea of an increased tourism industry in the Eastern Cape was strengthened, and thus reinforced the possibility of landowners to shift to game farming. As a result, eight neighbouring livestock farms in Amakhala were amalgamated to create the Amakhala Conservation Centre in 1999. With the conversion into a game farm, game species were introduced including cheetah, buffalo, elephant (Maciejewski & Kerley, 2014) and different types of antelope. Old houses were converted into lodges and Amakhala became an ecotourism operating game reserve, with eight lodges and camping facilities. Services offered by these private reserves have since attracted a number of domestic (ECPTA, 2018) and international tourists (Acheampong, 2015), ranking Eastern Cape as the third most visited province in South Africa by 2018 (ECPTA, 2018).

Impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being

According to Achieng et al., (2020), the shift from livestock farms into game farms changed the nature of ecosystem service provision in terms of quality and quantity, and accessibility and availability. It led to a decrease in provision of food from livestock and gardens, wood fuel, and game meat. Spiritual practices however remained consistent in both land uses, although churches were moved to different locations within the game farms.  

Socially, the establishment of game farms radically altered the networks of social relations attached to these places (Achieng et al., 2020; Mkhize, 2014). The livestock farms were seen as homes to most farmworkers, a place that allowed social networks to be established, which was integral to their sense of community. Worker residents were moved off game farms in towns, which meant they had to commute to work each day. As a result, there were lost valued social networks that strengthened community bonds, lost homes and security to the land, through erection of fences.

Game farms as land uses have more economic activities (Paul & Rashid, 2017) and gains generated from tourist activities (Brandt & Spierenburg, 2014). The economic benefits contributed to individual financial wellbeing and may extend beyond the reserve. The increase in profit generated from the game farm sector contributes to the GDP of the province, as affirmed by Maciejewski (2012), a benefit that according a provincial report, extends beyond the scale of the reserve and may be counted at a national scale (ECPTA, 2018; KO, 2015). According to Achieng et al., (2020), the economic gains were also important to both landowners and farmworkers at varied levels, and contributed to their financial wellbeing (Brandt & Spierenburg 2014).

In terms of gender impacts, change in economic status was most apparent among women workers. While women’s incomes may have increased, their socially prescribed roles as family carers and household managers did not change. This aligns with studies of the gender of paid and unpaid labour worldwide and across socio-economic categories - when women take on paid work often their unpaid labour - caring for families, does not decrease, resulting in an increase in their overall labour demands (WEF, 2015; Knudsen & Wærness, 2008). According to Achieng et al., (2020), women testified that their domestic duties did not decrease, even though their work duties in the game farm regime increased. While men’s paid work duties may have changed with the regime change, there was no indication that they took on previously female gendered roles in the household even though women took on additional paid work, along with their usual unpaid duties.

Management options

Regime shifts in social-ecological systems can present new forms of social narratives that can be constructed for a socially functioning society. To better manage the transition from livestock to game farming for all land users, Achieng (2018) suggests that  it is imperative to foster good and transparent relationships between ecosystem users in the process of change. This is in reference to major decisions of operations, especially those that significantly alter their living conditions. Crépin et al.,  (2012) also allude to better ways of navigating such transitions, including understanding context of different ecosystem stakeholders and asking questions of who the regime shift is significant to and diverse impacts it has on different ecosystem users.

Key References

  1. Acheampong, K. 2015. South Africa ’ s Eastern Cape Province tourism space economy : a system of palimpsest. African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure. 4(Special edition):1–18.
  2. Achieng, T. 2018. Investigating land use change in the Eastern Cape as a regime shift , a case study of Amakhala game reserve . Stellenbosch University.
  3. Achieng, T., Maciejewski, K., Dyer, M. & Biggs, R. 2020. Using a Social-ecological Regime Shift Approach to Understand the Transition from Livestock to Game. Land. 9(97):13.
  4. Brandt, F. & Spierenburg, M. 2014. Game fences in the Karoo: Reconfiguring spatial and social relations. Journal of Contemporary African Studies. 32(2):220–237.
  5. Crépin, A.S., Biggs, R., Polasky, S., Troell, M. & de Zeeuw, A. 2012. Regime shifts and management. Ecological Economics. 84:15–22.
  6. Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency. 2018. Annul Report 2017/18: Predetermined Objectives.
  7. Jones, B.T.B., Stolton, S. & Dudley, N. 2005. Private protected areas in East and southern Africa: contributing to biodiversity conservation and rural development. Parks. 15(2):67–77.
  8. Knudsen, K. & Wærness, K. 2008. National Context and Spouses ’ Housework in 34 Countries. European Sociological Review. 24(1):97–113.
  9. Lloyd, J.W., van den Berg, E.. & Palmer, A.. 2002. Patterns of transformation and degradation in the Thicket Biome, South Africa. Terrestrial Ecology Research unit. (39):1–88.
  10. Maciejewski, K. & Kerley, G.I.H. 2014. Understanding tourists’ preference for mammal species in private protected areas: Is there a case for extralimital species for ecotourism? PLoS ONE. 9(2).
  11. Maciejewski, K. 2012. Exploring the linkages between biodiversity conservation and ecotourism in protected areas. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
  12. Smith, N. & Wilson, S.L. 2002. Changing land use trends in the Thicket Biome: pastoralism to game farming.
  13. Sun, Z. & Müller, D. 2014. Understanding regime shift in land systems with system dynamics. Proceedings - 7th International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software: Bold Visions for Environmental Modeling, iEMSs 2014. 4:1921–1928.
  14. World Economic Forum. 2015. The Global Gender Gap Report 2015.


Therezah Achieng, Kristi Maciejewski, Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, Michelle Dyer. Livestock-game farming regime shift. In: Regime Shifts Database, Last revised 2021-03-19 12:44:55 GMT.
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