The paper begins with a literature review of the basic theories which underpin range science. Two major approaches for determining carrying capacity (CC) are described, animal or plant oriented. The inherent problems with each approach are discussed in the light of a recent, wider debate, questioning the validity of CC as a range management tool.
Methodological approaches for determination of CC, with inherent problems, are discussed. A brief description is given of a study from Rajasthan, India, illustrating seasonal changes in dry matter (DM) production from a complex mosaic of fodder resources. Utilization is also complex and dynamic, with fodder imports and exports being realized either directly or through animal movements.
It is argued that despite its weaknesses, CC is a useful concept for planning range improvement projects. A redefined, dynamic CC is recommended, based on local technical knowledge. The authors conclude that until a more user-friendly alternative is presented, in a practical, rather than conceptual framework, CC will remain the best practical tool available to planners. They stress the need to fully involve range users (herders) in all aspects of project planning and implementation, if sustainable productivity increases are to be achieved.
It is suggested that a flexible stocking rate (SR), dependent on seasonal and annual variation in feed availability, must be a key element in any improved range and livestock management strategy. Traditional herders probably already practice this strategy on intuitive information.