Horticulture to the rescue

The Green Futures Project at Grootbos Reserve in the Western Cape trains unemployed young adults from the surrounding community in landscaping, horticulture and ecotourism.

The project, run by the Grootbos Foundation, aims to conserve the biodiversity of the reserve and surrounding areas while implementing social development projects in local communities.

“We don’t want merely to produce gardeners, but highly skilled horticulturists, landscapers and nature guides. There’s a strong lifeskills component to the course that includes money management, computer literacy, HIV/Aids awareness, interpersonal skills and obtaining a driver’s licence,” says Grootbos conservation manager Sean Privett.

A Green Futures college has been established on the reserve and boasts 82 graduates in the past eight years who have all found employment. In 2009 a “growing the future food production and lifeskills” programme was launched to train women in sustainable agricultural techniques and lifeskills.

Eight women from the local Stanford community are chosen annually to receive training on organic farming, soil science, permaculture, planting of vegetables and other subjects. The women sell their produce at commercial rates to the reserve’s kitchens. Indigenous plants from the Green Futures horticultural projects are sold to nurseries and private companies. The aim of the projects is to be self-funding.

“The income generated helps to cover 60% to 70% of the projects’ running costs. The rest is provided by donors and by tourists who visit the reserve,” says Privett. A total of R3.1-million was spent on conservation and development projects in the 2010-11 financial year.

The Grootbos Foundation also runs sports programmes and provides skills development for the youth in Gansbaai. They are taught environmental responsibility through recycling projects and litter pick-up campaigns.

Waste management is another focus, with staff and students constantly encouraged to reuse, recyle and reduce waste. The reserve recycles 65% of its waste, while 100% of kitchen food waste is recycled through feeding pigs and chickens. Their manure is used to provide 80% of Grootbos’s compost needs.

Last year the reserve published a comprehensive field guide for the area, based on more than a decade’s worth of fauna and flora monitoring. The foundation also launched the Future Trees programme to help restore an endangered milkwood forest that was destroyed by a wildfire in 2006.

Privett says their ecotourism business is soundly based on environmental protection: “Unless there’s a genuine effort to look after our biodiversity, our business would fail. Our commitment to the environment isn’t window dressing, it is the foundation of what we do.”

Through exposure to the various initiatives, tourists get a memorable lesson in ecological conservation. It’s a lesson that more South Africans need to learn, says Privett. “Many people don’t realise how lucky we are to have such incredible biodiversity, nor how much will be lost if we fail to protect it. Our mission at Grootbos Foundation is to bring about that awareness.”

The Greening the Future judges were impressed by the wholistic approach given to environmental knowledge sharing at Grootbos. They praised the lifeskills college, the programme’s creation of jobs and the ongoing commitment of the individuals involved.

“The initiatives are providing important opportunities in a neglected area. It’s a quality programme and a model of the difference a small team can make in a community,” the judges said.

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