Presidium project: Zulu sheep

Presidium project: Zulu sheep

What is the Presidia?
Loosely translated, Presidia means “garrison”, and Slow Food Presidia (Presidium, singular) are the foot soldiers who work to ensure the survival of artisan food production, by saving rare livestock breeds and edible plants from extinction, and ensuring that ancient and traditional methods of food production are not forgotten.

The goals of the Presidia are to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods by stabilising production techniques, establishing stringent production standards, and promoting local consumption.

Sometimes, it takes just a little effort to save an artisan food; it’s enough to bring together producers, help them coordinate marketing and promotion, and establish quality and authenticity standards for their product.

Other times, when the production of an artisan food is closer to the brink, it takes more: building a slaughterhouse, an oven, or reconstructing crumbling farmhouse walls.

Following a visit to the Salone del Gusto in Turin in 2008,  by Tim Truluck and Penny Ward, where several of the Slow Food Presidia had stands, they decided to try and find a Presidium project near Johannesburg.

Saving the Izimvu

Enaleni Farm, near Camperdown in KwaZulu-Natal, with its small flock of rare Zulu sheep, or Izimvu, was chosen to be South Africa’s first Presidium project.

Izimvu sheep evolved from the Nguni sheep that were kept by Iron Age people in north Africa, and which migrated to the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal 1800-2000 years ago.

The sheep were and reared by generations of Zulu people who eventually settled in the area, and the animals have since adapted to the specific conditions found in the Kwazulu-Natal.

In the past there would have been small but significant flocks of Izimvu found throughout the Zululand and in the Valley of a Thousand Hills.

Over the years the numbers have been reduced by the fragmented and isolated settlement patterns of the population in KwaZulu-Natal which has resulted in the introduction of western and composite sheep breeds.

Other factors influencing the demise of Izimvu have been colonial paradigms in agricultural development that have strongly promoted western type commercial farming practices in both their extension services and research; a type of top down approach that has undermined the uniqueness and the important potential of indigenous domesticated livestock such as Izimvu.