Gauteng has grasslands that are being developed for ecotourism

GDARD is working closely with local farmers to secure biodiversity

GDARD is working closely with local farmers to secure biodiversity

Think of Gauteng and you instantly think of swathes of urban development and residential sprawl. But, broaden your mind and you’ll remember the tracts of grassland that surround its cities in all directions.

“Gauteng is South African conservation’s forgotten province,” says Emily Taylor, project co-ordinator of “Greening Gauteng’s Grasslands”, more formally known as the Gauteng Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. “Even though the rest of South Africa is arguably more famous for its biodiversity and scenic splendour, Gauteng contains an exceptional number of species that are unique globally. We are discovering property gems of astounding biodiversity and aesthetic value.”

As the country’s economic hub, Gauteng is under constant pressure. Natural areas are continuously being cleared for mining, agriculture, residential developments and industry. According to Taylor, more than half of the natural habitat in Gauteng has already been lost.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust recently entered into a partnership with the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development (GDARD). Funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, this exciting new project is working towards securing valuable biodiversity on privately-owned land in Gauteng in close collaboration with the local farming community, using the Biodiversity Stewardship approach.

“The stewardship programme aims to establish positive, proactive and formalised partnerships between conservation authorities and this farming community,” explains Taylor. “It aims to work with and support farmers to commit formally to the sustainable management and protection of the natural resources on their land, for the benefit of all citizens of Gauteng, into perpetuity, while still facilitating agricultural productivity and food security.”

Landowners and employees of the farms will work with the relevant management body (GDARD and/or relevant experts) to develop an Environmental Management Plan, which aligns with their production goals.

“Therefore, while the farmer’s team is assisted with legal agreements for the formal proclamation of their land as a Nature Reserve or Protected Environment, they also receive expert input into the farm Management Plan, as well as [an] ecological skills transfer,” says Taylor.

On proclamation of a Biodiversity Stewardship area, landowners retain ownership of their land and are able to continue with responsible farming practices, and therefore viable and profitable agricultural production. This allows for employment of members of the local community to assist with their normal farming activities, as well as cattle management, veld burning, fencing, alien plant removal and other key functions consistent with the maintenance of healthy grassland ecosystems.

“Many of Gauteng’s grasslands are owned privately or communally, and it is imperative that efforts to conserve these areas include consultation and collaboration with both sets of stakeholders. By taking this approach, our project follows a less traditional route to the establishment of protected areas. In addition, there is a strong focus on collaboration and capacity building between nongovernmental organisations and GDARD, which sets this project apart,” says Taylor.

“Grasslands support most of our agriculture. They are the breadbasket of the country, providing critical ecosystem services such as clean water and fertile soil. Therefore, this project supports South African society at large.”

Caption: GDARD is working closely with local farmers to to secure biodiversity

Special mention: The Alexandra Greening Route

The project encourages self-sustainability in the township

The Alexandra Greening Route is a self-starting community farming and tourism initiative that works deep within communities to effect change. Spearheaded by Paul Maluleke, the route offers workshops and teaching programmes for community gardeners, thereby encouraging self-starting sustainable business practices.

The route teaches and encourages the community to plant their own fruit and vegetables in order to sustain themselves and sell on their produce. Produce from the route’s gardens is planted with best practice methods and is donated on a daily basis to the Alexandra Disability Centre. There is also the intention to create a soup kitchen for school learners that face challenges due to poor nutrition.

In addition to this the project allows tourists the opportunity to see a positive side of “Alex”. It allows them the opportunity to visit the 20 or so community gardens currently being farmed in the township and to take part in workshops and gardening as well as in city-wide clean-ups.

“Although the Alexandra Greening Route was born just over a year ago, every day the concept is growing, and our network stretching,” says Maluleke. “We are constantly getting requests from different organisation that have similar initiatives but don’t know how to activate within this space.

“What we have learnt is that most of our gardens and gardeners have common challenges and problems; they require government intervention and investments to upgrade the farms to be user-friendly for ecotourism and be accessible [for the] community at large.”

“Through the Alexandra Greening Route we are able to move in common vision,” he adds. “Our beneficiaries understand [more] about farming, about global warming and its impact and about nutrition.”