Collaboration with the Savory Institute

"Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community, economy or nation is derived from the photosynthetic process - green plants growing on regenerating soil."

Allan Savory

OLIVE LEAF Foundation (OLF) is a South African based Sustainable Development Organisation with 30 years’ experience helping disadvantaged communities in Africa.

From humble beginnings in 1989, OLF grew in response to the emerging HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, providing community sensitive programmes locally and in 37 countries on the continent. This work developed a foundation of strong community mobilisation, good governance and sustainability.

OLF adapted and evolved, and the last decade saw a shift in focus from urban-based programmes to rural regenerative initiatives, addressing the global climate change crisis by mobilising communities to better manage the natural resources (land and livestock) at their disposal.

Our quest to find a lasting and viable solution to land degradation and poverty in the communal farming areas of South Africa, led us to the Savory Institute: an international organisation committed to restoring the soils and grasslands of the world through Holistic Management. Based on the work of Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean scientist, Holistic Management is a systems thinking approach to managing resources, resulting in restored grasslands. Healthy grasslands have a number of positive outcomes: food security, carbon sequestration, drought resilience, water infiltration and economic viability.

The dynamic collaboration between Olive Leaf Foundation and the Savory Institute saw the creation of the Savory Hub South Africa, based on a farm near Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. And in 2014 work began in the Hewu District, a communal farming region in the Ciskei – a former ‘homeland’ under Apartheid.

Mcuela Village
Pilot Phase 2016 - 2017

Due to the successful implementation of regenerative land and livestock management, the initiative expanded and in 2016 Mcuela Village was selected as the pilot site. This proved impactful: while neighbouring villages had no grass, and livestock was dying virtually daily due to a severe drought, Mceula Village had grass and lost no animals (except an old cow who was on her way out) in the winter. As a result, surrounding villages were eager to be a part of the programme.

During this time the Five Village System was introduced as a way to expand the work into the community.

As recognition of its transformation, Mceula Village was selected as a finalist in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Equator Initiative Awards 2017. The UNDP provides opportunities for indigenous peoples and local communities around the world to address the challenges of land degradation, biodiversity, conservation and livelihood improvement in a socially equitable manner.

The 7 Youth Wool Growing Cooperatives
Prototype Phase 2014 - 2015

In mid-2014, the chief of the Zulukama Traditional Authority approached OLF to assist 7 Youth Wool Growing Cooperatives, which received breeding ewes as part of a municipal initiative to stimulate farming in the Ciskei. The ewes, in lamb, reached the community in June; an ill-planned arrival as it coincided with the start of winter. It was immediately clear the Cooperatives urgently needed supplementary feed for the sheep, so Cape Wools SA stepped in and provided winter feed to sustain the sheep through the dry season. Olive Leaf Foundation, with assistance from international donor Solidaridad, trained and mentored the Cooperatives in regenerative land and livestock management.

The intervention was a success, with a number of the Cooperatives reaching commercial production benchmarks – on par with commercial wool growers in South Africa, as evident in the combined statistics for the 7 Cooperatives:

Year 1 Year 2
Adult ewe fatality: 28.71% 5.14%
Lamb weaning rate: 7.85% 45.14%
Wool income per sheep: R147.69 R218.63 (48% increase in income)

The Sobanjwa Zinkwenkwezi (‘Reach for the Stars’) Youth Cooperative, comprising mainly women, won the national Rural Development and Agrarian Reform Special Youth Award, presented at the Female Entrepreneur Award Ceremony, in August 2018. This Cooperative’s statistics were particularly impressive:

Year 1 Year 2
Adult ewe fatality: 31% 0%
Lamb weaning rate: 0% 79%
Wool income per sheep: R128.41 R284.74 (120% increase in income)

Ayanda’s Story: The Zulukama Wool Revolution

A video capturing the challenges and aspirations of communal farmers in the Eastern Cape. Filmed during the pilot phase of the current project led by Olive Leaf Foundation, the video highlights the economic impact achieved through training in regenerative land & livestock management, and animal health & nutrition. The success of the initiative illustrates the benefits of multi-stakeholder involvement, critical for all future innovations.

The Communal Agricultural Transformation (CAT) Project
Standardising Phase 2018 - Current

With growing interest from the community, it was time to standardise the process to ensure effective roll-out. A key development in 2019, was incorporating the Regenerative Framework: a game changer created by nRhythm.

The Regenerative Framework is a crucial component in designing healthy, resilient communities. It ensures grassroots involvement, as the community ultimately decides what it wants: defining its own purpose, values, goals and desired behaviours. The change process is driven from within a community, ensuring lasting change and sustainability.

In 2019 Olive Leaf Foundation and the Flanders’ Government partnered to roll-out the Communal Agricultural Transformation Project. Six villages form part of the standardisation process, vital for the future expansion of the initiative into the remaining 40 villages in the Hewu District.