Lipalesa Sissie Matela, director of ERS, in Ongeluksnek; © CI/ photo by Julie Shaw
Even before CEPF came on the scene in the Eastern Cape, ERS was among those in the region coordinating actions to improve the situation for the Mzimvubu Catchment. Both CSA and ERS were founding members of the Mzimvubu Catchment Partnership Program (UCPP), a network that was conceived in 2010 and formalized in 2012, and whose early members also included two local municipalities; the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, Environment, and Tourism; the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority; the nonprofit Save Act; the Mehloding Community Tourism Trust; EWT and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).
The goal was to coordinate government, traditional authorities, NGOs, business and civil society in order to create a formally recognized water management forum. The group alliance would, among other things, be used to share and improve knowledge of restoration techniques, the economic value of healthy ecosystems, and vulnerability to climate change; and establish baseline monitoring information on the landscape, as well as social and economic development in the region. The plan also was to coordinate support for communal and commercial stewardship — efforts by communities, businesses and individuals to sustainably manage ecosystems outside formal protected areas within the Mzimvubu watershed.
CSA and ERS approached CEPF in the early stages of the forum establishment, seeking support to build it up, and the result was the CEPF project “uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership Program—Building Institutions and Financial Sustainability for Restoration and Conservation of the Upper Umzimvubu Catchment,” which began in October 2012.
“The vision had already been developed, but we did not have the resources,” said Lipalesa Sissie Matela, director of ERS, regarding the UCPP. “That’s why CEPF made such a big difference, because we could finally get everybody together.”
“The success of UCPP lies in the firm belief that all stakeholders within the catchment have a responsibility and ability to play a positive role in the restoration of the catchment. We have all learnt that it does not help to curse the darkness of degradation and point fingers, but to light candles through participation in restoration work,” said Sinegugu Zukulu from CSA.
Under the project, which continues through February 2015, the UCPP has so far been able to bring 31 organizations and individuals on board, including not only NGOs and government agencies, but also traditional leaders from two communities, as well as research institutions and consulting firms. All of these entities signed a memorandum of understanding with a 20-year vision for restoring and maintaining catchment health. The group meets on a quarterly basis to share experiences and to report on progress on their own projects, particularly restoration work being done within the catchment.
The forum is the first of its kind on South Africa, and government authorities have asked CSA and ERS to help in the development of a regional catchment management agency. UCPP has been recognized by DWA (Department of Water Affairs) as the only functional civil society representative Catchment Management Forum in the country.
Organizations that are involved in clearing of alien invasive vegetation have established smaller networks for the sake of learning from each other, and are providing skills exchanges for sharing best and safe practice. LIMA, CSA and ERS regularly have shared field exchanges between staff members to develop best practice approaches. The same is happening in rangelands management, where these groups have established a local network with practical workshop sessions on how to best manage rangelands for the benefit of both people and nature, exploring the use of herders and ecorangers, who have expertise to manage rangelands and livestock grazing through usage of modern technology. Exchanges with Lesotho colleagues through the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Programme (MDTP) have also been invaluable in sharing experience and refining approaches.
Herder on horseback, Motseng; © Tessa Mildenhall
CSA and ERS have worked closely together, and with other organizations, on the ground to get to the root of some of the catchment’s woes by addressing the problem of invasive plants, overgrazing and the need for local community engagement in land management.
CEPF funded the ERS-driven project “Ongeluksnek: Biodiversity Custodianship through Innovative 'People and Parks' Cooperation,” which ran from February 2012 to December 2013. Working in 13,000 hectares of the upper Mzimvubu River Catchment, in the Ongeluksnek Provincial Nature Reserve, ERS employed local residents to clear invasive plants, especially two varieties of wattle tree that have dug in through many parts of the Eastern Cape grasslands. The crews exceeded their original goal of clearing alien plants from 100 hectares, ultimately clearing 270 hectares, in part by developing new techniques for wattle removal. ERS is now working to ensure follow-up maintenance of the cleared landscapes, which has its own set of challenges in handing over to provincial conservation authorities who often lack resources to undertake follow up.
From left, Cobus Theron of EWT, Dan Rothberg of CEPF and Nicky McLeod of ERS have a look at the handy work of crews battling invasive wattle trees in Ongeluksnek. Crew members can be seen in the background; © CI/ photo by Julie Shaw
“The concept of using existing livestock herders and eco-rangers to assist with post-clearing maintenance in communally owned landscapes around the reserve and further east along the catchment is an important stewardship approach emerging out of this CEPF-supported experience,” said McLeod. “DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) Land User Incentives program funds have been accessed for clearing and range restoration project implementation in the western and eastern ends of the catchment. Despite the logistical challenges involved in providing practical site support to these remote sites, we see the approach as being something like King Shaka’s ‘bulls horns’ strategy, where his army surrounded the enemy from both sides. We feel a bit like an army taking on an invading force, aka alien plants.”
Additional results of the multifaceted ERS project include:
- Assistance to the nearby Motseng community to establish a communal property association, allowing the citizen-run organization to take ownership of 805 hectares of surveyed land adjacent to the reserve. ERS worked with the community to improve rangeland management practices to make herding more sustainable for the farmers and for the species of plants native to the area. It’s a model ERS believes can be replicated in surrounding communal lands. The CPA is still being registered through a long, state-supported process.
- Development of grazing plans that maintain native vegetation for all communities surrounding the reserve.
- Improved trails and wildlife viewing opportunities for tourists.
- Establishment of conservation links with the adjacent RAMSAR site in Lesotho to highlight strategic and international significance of Ongeluksnek.
- Development of a bearded and Cape vulture “hide” in Ongeluksnek, a structure that would allow tourists to get a close-up view of the these and other species without being seen by the birds. There is only one other hide in the Drakensberg, which is fully booked, making this an opportunity to market this special area to ecotourists.
- Engagement of the local community in monitoring of the vulture species.
- Improved long-term livelihood opportunities for 40 rural households through green jobs, grazing and tourism.
Stock sale organized by CSA and ERS for local herders; Photo courtesy of ERS
One effort that has proved challenging so far is ERS’s attempt to lay the foundation for a payment for ecosystem services plan, under which downstream beneficiaries of a well-maintained catchment would pay to support that maintenance. Unfortunately, the downstream users and other beneficiaries are largely poor communities without the means currently to provide such support. But ERS continues to look for opportunities, with the support of UCPP allies including SANBI, EWT and CSA.
Local communities have gained support, however, via cooperation among ERS, CSA and the government-funded Natural Resource Management Land User Incentives project to expand the clearing and rangeland management efforts to areas near the reserve.
The rangeland management aspect of the project benefited from the lessons CSA and others learned from the CEPF-supported Biodiversity and Red Meat Initiative developed in South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region. That program also brought conservationists and herders together to develop best practices for sustainable grazing that protects native plants and makes for healthier, and more commercially desirable, livestock.
“We are employing 28 ecorangers who are managing the rangelands to make sure the wattle doesn’t come back,” said Sinegugu Zukulu, CSA’s program manager for the Mzimvubu Landscape. The rangers work with the herders to encourage rotational grazing that promotes the growth of native grasses and helps keep wattle at bay, Zukulu said. Assistance to the herders goes beyond land management. CSA also helped herders vaccinate livestock, and CSA and ERS organized a recent stock sale for the villages they have been working with. Zukulu described the sale as “a resounding success,” noting that the communities brought in nearly half a million rand in one day, the biggest sale they had ever seen. “The four buyers who were there commented that they had never seen cattle looking so good in these communities, and they have no doubt that it is due to good grazing, improved by the rotation grazing that we have introduced,” Zukulu said.
“For them, it is their rangeland that is important. It is their livestock that is important. It is being able to afford to send their children to school. But we know our interest is catchment management, rehabilitation of landscapes, biodiversity,” said ERS Director Matela. “But at the end of the day, what we achieve is going to benefit them, it’s going to benefit us, it’s going to benefit the landscapes. So we can name it different things, but our goal is the same.”
Another benefit to the communities has been preservation of tradition.
“The youth who have been seeing herding of livestock as a backward job are now seeing the benefits of herding and learning new skills of rangelands management,” Zukulu said. “This means preservation of culture of herding in these communities.”
And land stewardship may become a tradition. CSA worked with six teams in three villages to establish voluntary stewardship agreements to reclaim and restore degraded lands, and maintain areas that have been cleared of alien species.
“CEPF funding has enabled us to influence and bring about change in the way people have been doing things,” said Zukulu. “We have brought about the much needed change, a paradigm shift.”
Other achievements include:
- Securing nearly 20 million rand for restoration funding for the upper catchment primarily from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Natural Resource Management, and also including funding from Endangered Wildlife Trust. This will result in nearly 200 beneficiaries being employed in the clearing of alien invasive vegetation and management of rangelands.
- Efforts to help four local municipalities integrate climate change into their planning to ensure community resilience, conducted in cooperation with the National Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African Local Government Association.