An Overview Of Our Solution
- Population Impacted
- Continent: Africa
Endangered Wildlife Trust/ Att: Christy Bragg
Modderfontein South Africa
In terms of area we are working with under stewardship about 350,000 ha and the rehabilitation sites total about 30 ha (recently upscaled this). We work at different scales depending on who we are targeting through which project.
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose
Local threats to resources
Level of sensitivity
Level of adaptive capacity
About a whole lot more than just bunnies, this Programme aims to establish sound Karoo riparian habitat management principles that are conducive to the conservation of the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit Bunolagus monticularis and its threatened riparian ecosystem, whilst simultaneously developing socio-economic benefits to urban and rural Karoo human communities. The Riverine Rabbit only occurs on farmland in the Karoo and one of the primary threats facing Riverine Rabbits is the degradation and loss of its habitat to cultivation, overgrazing and the construction of dams and weirs. Riparian zones provide vital ecosystem services including increasing water infiltration, reducing floods, stabilizing river banks and improving water quality by trapping sediment and nutrients. They also provide corridors which facilitate the migration of species and act as a buffer between aquatic ecosystems and adjacent land uses; all of the above also serve to provide resilience to the predicted impacts of climate change. The broad scope of the threats facing the species and its unique habitat requires active intervention measures at many different levels; the Programme has responded by taking a multi-disciplinary approach to integrate biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture and social development in a unique and groundbreaking model. To achieve sustainable habitat management, partnerships have been created with land-owners in the form of Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements. The EWT-DCP was instrumental in establishing, in partnership with provincial authorities and landowners, four Riverine Rabbit conservancies (360 000 ha). Conservancy farmers work together with the EWT-DCP to develop sustainable riparian habitat management practices to facilitate the conservation of the rabbit?s habitat whilst simultaneously providing benefits for farmers. The Riparian Ecosystem Restoration Project (initiated in 2007) implements active restoration of Karoo riparian systems through intervention measures in order to regenerate depleted soils, combat erosion, restore vegetation cover, increase production potential for higher grazing capacity and increase biodiversity. An Indigenous Karoo Plant Nursery, established in co-operation with the Loxton (Northern Cape) Ubuntu Municipality, is managed by the EWT-DCP. The nursery currently has the capacity to produce in excess of 7000 indigenous Karoo riparian seedlings per year, for rehabilitation purposes. Propagation techniques have been refined and are shared through knowledge exchanges with Government Agricultural and Conservation Departments and the private sector. Intervention measures to rehabilitate riparian areas have been instigated on five rehabilitation sites in two Riverine Rabbit conservancies. While the pilot sites are still too young in terms of arid-area rehabilitation to yield long-term results, preliminary findings indicate that the approach and methodology is sound. Fixed point photography is carried out, and plots have been laid out to monitor plant species survival and ground cover establishment. Evaluation of the project?s progress is ongoing and reporting is regularly done for funders and partners. The project has developed a goals-driven Strategy and Work Plan, with clear targets and indicators. Given the paucity of data on rehabilitation in riparian areas, much of the work to date has been of a pioneering nature to establish best-practice techniques for riparian ecosystem rehabilitation. The next phase, started in April 2013 and half way through, is to upscale the project in order to develop it into a large-scale demonstration project to showcase an ecosystem-based adaptation model for arid regions. As such, monitoring protocols have bee developed and implemented to assess the recovery of ecosystem services, such as soil health, water infiltration, plant cover, vegetation palatability, as well as eroded patch recovery. Furthermore the number of work days generated and livelihoods created is monitored, as well as the overall cost to donors and the inkind contributions of landowners. As rehabilitation is a labour-intensive process requiring skills development, the project contributes to providing socio-economic opportunities for the impoverished communities of the Karoo. The EWT-DCP nursery is staffed by two fully-trained members from the local community, while teams of up to 20 men and women are employed on the rehabilitation sites for several months of the year and at regular times during the year during seed harvesting, nursery maintenance and conservation research fieldwork. The rehabilitation programme supported 625 hours of manpower from the local community from April to May 2012. Women are trained in indigenous Karoo plant propagation, including plant identification, seed collection, and transplanting methodologies. These are all part of the specific skills-set required for the successful functioning of the Nursery. Nursery staff have conducted knowledge exchange trips to similar nurseries in the Western Cape (RenuKaroo and Worcester Veld Reserve). In addition, several women have participated in on-site training on a casual employment basis. In addition to stretching the boundaries of riparian habitat research, the EWT-DCP is currently embarking on an innovative new method for estimating density of the very elusive, shy, nocturnal and rare Riverine Rabbit, using an array of camera traps and some complicated statistics (based on the fact one cannot individually identify these rabbits). This research will not only lead to better prioritization of scarce conservation resources, but also reveal new facts about the behavioural ecology and habitat use of the rabbit. In conclusion, this model thus not only supports agricultural principles of sustainable land management, but also promotes biodiversity conservation, enhances resilience and supports local livelihoods and capacity building. Both the rural Karoo farming community, on whose land rehabilitation activities take place, and the impoverished urban community in Loxton, for whom employment is created during rehabilitation work and at the Nursery are engaged by the Programme. The overall aim of the Karoo Ecosystem Restoration project is to integrate sustainable natural resource management and job creation by restoring ecosystems. This will: enhance ecosystem functions and biodiversity through riparian restoration; improve landowner resilience to climate change shocks; improve rural community livelihoods and skills; be the pilot for a model of ecosystem-based adaptation for replication in arid areas; and improve sustainable land management principles.
Economic Indicators used to measure benefit
Soil erosion profiles; numbers of plant species and cover, recovery rate of plants, water infiltration, numbers of Riverine Rabbits using site; soil health and impactness, numbers of resource patches, etc (Landscape Functional Analysis toolkit used)
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit
Costs for facilitated workshops with farmers, Farmers Days and School Days Costs for implementing restoration and propagation at the nursery, coordinating and managing the project, fuel and operational costs
Through our fundraising, private donations flow from corporates in metropolises in other wealthier provinces and international grants into rural communities to support livelihoods, as well as long term economically sustainable land management practices.
Ecological Indicators used to measure benefit
Income generated, family members benefiting, return on restored land (long term indicators)
What were/are the challenges your community faced in implementing this solution?
The costs of rehabilitation need to be borne by all spheres of society, particularly since food security is an issue in South Africa and since South Africa gives no subsidies for agriculture. As the Karoo is marginal agricultural land and already severely impacted by degradation, solutions can often only show in ten years time.
Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used
The programme has been operating in the area for 13 years and has spent a long time building good relationships with the community in the town and with the farmers around the town in this rural landscape. Information ad assessments collated to assist in guiding our strategy were first focused on a situational analysis of the ecological status quo, and several studies were completed by academic students to fill the gaps in our knowledge, including the condition change and cause for the degradation of riparian vegetation, habitat to the Critically Endangered Riverine Rabbit. This work was enhanced by years of Riverine Rabbit surveys and a sightings database. This information allowed us to use the Riverine Rabbit as an indicator tool for assessing the past changes to riparian vegetation, which is a critical vegetation type in the Karoo as it provides key resource areas for wildlife and livestock, buffers grazing during droughts and mitigates floods. The intactness of riparian veld protects soils, prevents erosion, a serious threat in the Karoo, and maintains soil health and water infiltration. Modelling exercises allowed us to assess the impacts of climate change on the Riverine Rabbit species. Farmers were engaged through the process of Biodiversity Stewardship, which is essentially a voluntary participation of farmers in custodianship of their land and its resources, in exchange for incentives offered by nature conservation authorities and NGOs. In 2012 the EWT-DCP (Drylands Conservation Programme) funded a ParticiPlan workshop, which was essentially run by a third party on participatory principles, with the community and ourselves, in order to ensure all views, perspectives and needs were met and discussed in a neutral approach. Similar activities, such as Open Days and educational activities, have encouraged support and involvement from the community and schools. The project is supported by the local authority, the Ubuntu Municipality, who provide in-kind support. Furthermore we have very close partnerships with the provincial conservation authorities, Western Cape universities, and department of agriculture. Vulnerability assessments are yet to be conducted in this area, although we are currently trying to raise funds to do so, but rough assessments have been based on work done by Conservation South Africa in the neighbouring district municipality, Namakwa, which faces many of the same challenges, threats and environmental conditions. Our ecosystem based adaptation approach has been operational for six years.
Climate hazard of concern
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?
Restoration of Ecological infrastructure (solution): The core target areas of the project encompass the degraded seasonal river catchments in the semi-arid Nama-Karoo Biome. The spatial biodiversity assessment warned that river catchments are poorly protected. Less than 1% of the Nama Karoo Biome is conserved in formal areas and catchment areas represent important key resource areas in semi-arid landscapes. Given the national importance of water catchments and the role of riparian areas as refuges and providing ecosystem services that will protect both communities and ecosystems from the projected impacts of climate change, the need to restore these critical areas can only increase. The skills development and job creation opportunities associated with restoration of degraded land make it a worthwhile opportunity for enhancing livelihoods of unemployed people with few job opportunities in rural areas. The value of biodiversity in supporting adaptation actions of benefit to human society (termed ecosystem-based adaptation or EbA) has been recognized but EbA has not yet been scientifically demonstrated in South Africa, and this programme represents a unique opportunity to showcase and demonstrate through a monitoring framework, inclusive of ecosystem services monitoring, verification of the links between ecosystem health and human welfare. Restoration of riparian areas will take place in line with the development of biodiversity corridors and improving veld management to provide buffers for climate change impacts and a refuge for wildlife. Droughts and floods are mitigated by an intact, healthy riparian system, which reduces soil loss through wind and water erosion, captures organic matter and water allows better water infiltration (and thus improved water resources) and retards flood runoff.
How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?
The complex dynamics of semi-arid ecosystems and especially the discrepancy between observation times (years) and time scales of vegetation change (centuries) make it difficult to fully understand long-term ecosystem dynamics. Periodic droughts as well as above average rainfall, further bias short-term observations. However, what has been established is that degraded systems that have retrogressed beyond a certain threshold cannot recover by passive technologies such as resting from utilization, and natural succession processes no longer function. Active intervention in the form of restoration measures of degraded riparian areas is thus a necessity. Our 4 trial sites have shown promising recovery of vegetation and even enhanced biodiversity recovery.
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?
Job creation and training of locally employed staff on the project occurs both on the rehabilitation site, at the nursery, as well as through knowledge exchange during field trips to other restoration facilities and by visiting specialists. Skills learnt on the rehabilitation sites, such as fencing and erosion control, make our employees infinitely more employable in the agricultural sector. South African rural communities remain some of the most impoverished societies in the world, while small towns in the vast rural areas of the Karoo offer few employment opportunities to a largely unskilled labour force under poorly resourced local governance. More than 60% of women in rural areas are unemployed and those who work have a low income. Labour is consistently sourced locally and in-service training to develop the relevant skills is provided, thereby creating employment and skills development in poor rural communities with few other social upliftment opportunities. Through this approach a strong component of the Riparian Habitat Restoration Project lies in the conservation of water resources and regional biodiversity through community involvement at all levels. Protecting riparian vegetation through restoration and through the Biodiversity Stewardship Project encourages landowners to manage their lands sustainably, thus both restoring assets valuable to their livelihood and buffering them from impacts on their farming from long term climate change shocks. The goal is to out-scale this work, using community of practice principles, through stewardship programmes, through dissemination with municipalities and via engagement of provincial authorities in South Africa. By integrating biodiversity conservation with sustainable agricultural practices and social upliftment, the natural resource base is restored and livelihoods improved, and thus the water-food-energy nexus is significantly reinforced in socially and environmentally vulnerable semi arid areas such as the Karoo
How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?
The sensitivity of ecological systems is reduced through the introduction of sustainable management guidelines as set out in Conservancy management guidelines (through stewardship) or through sustainable riparian guidelines for long term maintenance of restored areas. Sensitivity of endangered species is reduced through better grazing control preventing loss of cover essential for species refuges or by enhancing plant biodiversity and structure required for optimal habitat conditions. Furthermore restoring connectivity of the linear habitat fragments of riparian habitat ensures good genetic flow between populations, thus allowing for robust genetic structure for when climate change droughts or impacts might have added impacts on species.
How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?
Yes, the income generated from the job opportunities allows local communities to be buffered against potential climate change impacts, such as the rising cost of electricity or increased disasters. Furthermore skills and training allow them more employment opportunities and a better frame of reference to cope with change. Our solution also allows farmers to engage better with sustainable land management, thus improving their long term capacity to adapt when droughts increase and water and forage decreases.
Can this solution be replicated elsewhere?
Yes, particularly in arid landscapes. The essence of its success will be whether government can buy into the concept and encourage public financing, similar to South Africa's Working for Water programme. Already there is support from the local municipality and the model will be financed for outscaling by the Department of Environmental Affairs national grant under the Global Environmental Facility Land Degradation stream in 2015, using innovative financial mechanisms, such as premiums for biodiversity-friendly meat from green-marketing suppliers and retailers.