Project Summary

As a result of looking at things from a people’s perspective FIRST, the first major project of the Soft Foot Alliance became ‘Co-herd’. Co-herd has the Ndebele name “Ndawonye” which means “together” and together we are uplifting a community whilst regenerating landscapes and saving lions.

Herding, or lack thereof, is the single biggest reason why lions kill livestock around the Hwange national park’s boundaries. Something like 90% of cattle killed by lions are grazing unattended and yet Africans have had a deep culture of attending livestock since time began. Something changed, and we needed to understand why people stopped herding their cattle. The answer is a simple one, we were told by the young men, the traditional demographic given the task of herding that “herding is seen as a dead-end job and one without prospects”. Our challenge then was clear, that by looking at the task from the Herder’s perspective, how could we to turn herding into an opportunity?

The Co-Herd program has been designed to rebuild the status of herding in the community and with the young male demographic group. Only the young men who agree to join the team of local herders get access to training and an opportunity to be a part of the growing number of social enterprises the Soft Foot Alliance is developing in our local community.

All this means our local herders have regained their status in the community, young men now are willing to do this job and the cattle are brought back each night to the mobile bomas, keeping them safe from predators and reducing human-wildlife conflict.

We gratefully acknowledge the National Geographic Big Cat Initiative for their funding to start this project. 

The Full Story

At any one time the families that live in our community graze in the region of 500 head of cattle, with the average herd size per household being 5 cattle. Before we started the Co-Herd project it was not unusual for these cattle to be left unattended and vulnerable to predator attack. If herding was done, it was likely ad-hoc and unplanned.

But herding is an ancient means of controlling where and when livestock feed. This not only ensures that overgrazing is avoided, but also that the livestock are protected from predators. From over a decade of experience we have seen landscapes deteriorate because of overgrazing and the resultant erosion. More cattle are killed by lions when unattended than at any other time. But herding was simply not being done.

Young men in the community and families are the traditional group who herd cattle. In our global connected world, it isn’t a surprise that these same young men want more and different opportunities; they look at different professions and Facebook pages. They want a secure and prosperous future!

Traditionally herders were held in high regard and enjoyed a lofty status as they protected the community’s wealth. Today herding is reserved for those young men who didn’t finish school or have no other option. Herders lack motivation and enthusiasm and this, in the face of a hungry lion, is not a good quality!


Our most popular training opportunity is learning carpentry skills.

Another satisfied customer in the local community.

Program Design

The Co-Herd program has been designed to rebuild the status of herding in the community and with the young male demographic group. We have done this in a number of ways:

  1. We gave the herders uniforms and linked them with the local Lion Guardians by giving them cell phones and setting up Whatsapp groups.
  2. The herders and the community have been given permaculture training and have been supported to develop holistic grazing plans that can help regenerate the grasslands instead of overgrazing it.
  3. Herder’s work in groups and monitor cattle collectively. This level of collaboration means that they can share the load and get some time off from their duties
  4. Most importantly for the herders, this means that during their time off they get access to training to learn new trades and are a part of developing new social enterprises.

Soft Foot Alliance has hired a carpenter to train the ‘Co-Herd’ team members. This has resulted in furniture and hardware enterprises, making everything from beds to front doors. These skills enable to our herders to develop products that they can sell and so they can provide for their families and develop a more financially secure future. In turn they mentor the next generation, so that when they move on, their cattle will still be looked after and their younger brothers will also have an opportunity to develop new trade and business skills.

All this means our local herders have regained their status in the community, young men now are willing to do this job and the cattle are brought back each night to the mobile bomas keeping them safe from predators and reducing human-wildlife conflict.

Can you support the Co-Herd project? Soft Foot Alliance pay our carpenter US $30 per week to train the herders. Given the interest, we would like to do as much training as possible and financial support to cover training costs or buy more tools would be very welcome.

Tools are expensive in Zimbabwe, can you help Soft Foot Alliance buy more? Planer (US$50), Saw (US$35), Hammer (US$15) and a 1kg bag of 2-inch nails costs about $8. The list goes on and on.  Donations to support this popular project would be welcomed!

Mpiyekhaya Ncube
Head Herder C0-herd & Mobile Bomas

Mpiyekhaya’s Story: I am Mpiyekhaya Ncube, I live in the communal land, Ndajila village along the boundary of Hwange National Park sharing the landscape with wildlife, herding project coordinator and permaculture practitioner under the Soft Foot Alliance. My duties include meeting with the cattle herders and owners and motivating them to have their livestock in the holistic grazing plan and also monitor the mobile bomas to make sure the hosts are following the boma agreement and monitor and need for maintenance and facilitate according to the side of the Soft Foot Alliance

What drove me to be in the holistic conservation? In the early 90’s, when I grew up the land had thick forest, the soil was fertile and also we had no wildlife conflict in our communal lands. People used to get water from streams. Reeds for weaving their baskets, thatching grass and poles for building were found nearby and also the fields were producing enough food. All of these things are decreasing every year due to the poor management of the environment. As the Coordinator of the Soft Foot Alliance, I had managed to put 24 mobile bomas from The Soft Foot Alliance to the community to improve crop field fertility and also protect the cattle at night from lions and hyaena to reduce human wildlife conflict.

During the day cattle to have enough grass. I motivate herders to herd together following the planned grazing and also in these paddocks we remove snares to protect both cattle and wildlife. I can see the land improving.  Practicing permaculture is other methods that I am also using to improve catching water by using natural materials surrounding us. 

All these practices if each homestead/nation uses/ they take one step this will reduce the global warming and also we can reduce the human wildlife conflict and also have fertile land producing healthy food.