Promoting healthy ecosystems to build resilience to climate change


Community-based climate mitigation in KZN

Kwazulu-Natal is characterised by striking forest-grassland mosaic. These provide essential ecosystems services to the surrounding rural communities and urban areas within KZN, providing resources such as grazing lands for stock-farming and access to clean water as well as services such as erosion control and climate regulation. These ecosystems have previously been severely impacted by large scale sugarcane monoculture are now further exposed to threats from encroaching housing and industrial development.
CAP partner, Wildlands Conservation Trust (WCT), engages in reforestation efforts around the country, restoring and conserving threatened forest systems while benefitting the surrounding communities. WCT’s reforestation efforts aim to secure sizeable carbon sinks that assist with the mitigation of climate change by storing carbon and removing CO2 from the atmosphere during the growth phase of the forest. Through their Indigenous Trees for Life (ITFL) and Greening Your Future (GYF) programmes, WCT works with local people to holisitically address rural development and poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

CAP recently visited two WCT sink projects at the Buffelsdraai Landfill and Ongoye Forest Reserve. We were particularly interested in the community benefits of WCT’s conservation and mitigation efforts. Buffelsdraai, owned by the eThekwini municipality, is supported by over 700 ‘treepreneurs’ from peri-urban KwaMashu and more rural Osindisweni and Buffelsdraai settlements nearby. WCT plans to reforest 560 hectares of old sugar cane land around a large landfill site at a rate of around 100 hectares a year, creating a natural buffer between the landfill and the surrounding residents, increasing habitat for biodiversity conservation, and creating a carbon sink. On the day of our visit, the Buffelsdraai team was preparing to plant in anticipation of the summer rains. Holes had been dug in the cleared sugar cane fields and the team was moving bakkie-loads of young indigenous trees to the planting sites.

Buffelsdraai employs six full-time nursery and planting staff, one project manager, and three local facilitators who train ‘treepreneurs’ on propagation and tree care and negotiate with WCT and the community around desirable products and services to trade for trees. Additional people are also employed on short-term contracts as required.. The large and growing numbers of ITFL ‘treepreneurs’ linked to Buffelsdraai attests to the value residents find in participating in such a programme. The nursery workers we met are themselves ‘treepreneurs’, trading their home grown indigenous trees for staple foodstuffs and school fees. One particularly enterprising ‘treepreneur’, Ningi Gcabashe, traded her tree credits for driving lessons and license fees which significantly enhance her employability. The reforested area will also sequester around 4-5 tonnes of CO2e per hectare each year until mature, removing around 48 000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere over a 20 year cycle.

This model is also being extended to the Ongoye Forest in Northern KZN. A recent Birdlife-SA IBA assessment showed that, while the forest within the reserve area and the biodiversity it supports is still in good condition, the forest edges could become degraded by increasing pressure from unsustainable harvesting of trees for firewood and construction material and poorly controlled grazing activities. Since the Ongoye forest reserve area has been recognised as mostly intact with concern around potential habitat degradation being focused on the grassland sections of the reserve area and on the forest fringes, WCT has found that they do not need to engage in large-scale reforestation in the area. One of the options for WCT is to shift the model to planting trees in a buffer zone, or in woodlots around homesteads, that could be utilised by the surrounding communities This type of sustainable agro-forestry modification will thus provide the communities with useful forest resources and prevent the realisation of the potential threats to the Ongoye forest identified by the BLSA IBA assessment.

CAP visited the WCT indigenous tree nursery at Ongoye and a ‘treepreneur’ cooperative with another CAP partner WWF-SA. Programme Manager, Andrew Whitley, has been workshopping the various options for an Ongoye-specific tree-growing approach with the WWF-SA team, looking for a solution that achieves conservation and climate mitigation aims for the region while also directly benefitting community members. A dedicated project manager has been assigned to the area and there are already five local facilitators and 300 ‘treepreneurs’. Six ‘treepreneurs’ have formed a cooperative, growing trees in an organised collective at a large central site. Mark Botha (WWF-SA) proposed that tree species for planting in buffer areas could include non-indigenous but non-invasive fruit-bearing trees such as mangoes and guavas, or trees grown for their timber and fuel wood value, such as indigenous umzimbeet and sneezewood, or even alien turpentine gum. All of these species already grow in the area.

A flexible and context specific approach is needed when working at many different project sites and WCT is working hard to identify the most effective approach at each site. ITFL and GYF represent an innovative and extremely empowering model that has the scope to be widely implemented. This is provided that local biodiversity, socio-economic development, and climate change needs continue to be included and innovative ways are found to ensure the long-term sustainability of the ‘treepreneurs’. WESSA continues to investigate linking the Eco-schools programme in the area with these projects, educating scholars about the impacts of deforestation and reforestation, as well as climate adaptation measures such as food gardens. This long-term plan aims to foster a holistic understanding of environmental issues, reinforcing the sustainability of the project.

WCT’s efforts in Ongoye Forest clearly illustrate the ways in which CAP partners are working together around climate change projects. WCT, WWF, BLSA, and WESSA sharing their knowledge, experience, and expertise to achieve project success ensures that ecosystems are conserved and communities are provided with sustainable alternative livelihoods, building the resilience of both to the impact of a changing climate.

Amanda Bourne and Simisha Pather-Elias

Click the image to enlarge: Communities growing plants on the outskirts of Ongoye Forest
Communities growing plants on the outskirts of Ongoye Forest
Click the image to enlarge: Nursery at Buffelsdraai
Nursery at Buffelsdraai
Posted: 12/21/2010 (4:30:10 AM)

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