Picture what protecting biodiversity looks like. Eating more meat isn’t often what comes to mind. Like the rest of the world, livestock production is one the leading causes of biodiversity loss in South Africa. This is because of overgrazing and degradation of grasslands. On the African continent, up to 65% of productive land is degraded. 

It’s possible to restore the imbalances caused by overgrazing through strategies like rotation, resting, and bush control. By mimicking the ecosystem function of wild herbivores, meat production can maintain – and even restore – biodiversity and soil fertility.  When livestock trample the ground, it facilitates water penetration and plays a role in land fertilization, which also helps limit bush fires.

Meat Naturally’s EcoRangers across Southern Africa have committed to this conservationist approach to livestock production. With 70,000 hectares of land under improved management practices, farmers who have adopted their sustainable model have become the custodians of their environment.

Sarah Frazee, CEO of Meat Naturally believes that the only reason that herders will be motivated to continue herding in a manner that mimics nature is if people continue to consume meat. For consumers, that means making better meat choices by choosing to buy free-range meat. Once a vegetarian for 18 years, Sarah’s passion for the environment remained when she transitioned away from vegetarianism. The company was founded with the intent to address environmental degradation in South Africa and combine ecological restoration and rural economic development in a balanced way.

Conservation that creates space for community participation

For biodiversity conservation to have lasting impact, it’s important that communities form part of the conservation activities. In communities where there is true participation in conservation activities, the outcomes tend to be more sustainable. 

When communities have a space created for them to meaningfully participate in conservation activities it is evident when they are involved in implementing these activities. Since 2015, Meat Naturally has facilitated EcoRanger training programs for communal farmers by partnering with NGOs to offer rural farmers formal training on regenerative grazing techniques, rangeland restoration practices, cattle management, stock theft patrol, and predator controls. The farmers they work with sign conservation contracts which serve as guidelines and a standard of practices for farmers to follow. By doing this, farmers undertake practices that will protect wildlife and optimize rangeland health.

Maintaining these natural areas has an impact on carbon fixation and improves the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission balance. In the past year, Meat Naturally has helped farmers save nearly 100,000 tons of CO2e by sequestering carbon into the soil and reducing methane emissions from livestock enteric fermentation.

Not only has Meat Naturally reduced GHG emissions through improved agricultural land management but also through the limiting of fires. Through partnerships, the 22 communities that the company works with are able reduce fires and extinguish them more rapidly, helping to reduce the impact of fires on more than 12,000 ha of land. EcoRangers and the committee members who were compliant with their grazing agreement were also supported with basic fire extinguishing equipment and the implementation of strategic fire breaks. 

For cattle herders and livestock companies, Meat Naturally is a model for following the “Triple P” – planet, people, and profit. It’s one of the many models from WE4F innovators that guarantee a healthy and functional planet while being an environmentally sustainable company.