Helping people and nature coexist

first_img13 June 2005Friday’s launch of the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere Reserve near Hoedspruit is seen as an important step in the economic development of the central lowveld region, which straddles the boundary between Limpopo and Mpumalanga.Stretching from the Blyde River Canyon to the Kruger National Park, the biosphere will incorporate the 1.5-million people, mainly rural poor, who live there. It is the fourth internationally recognised biosphere in South Africa. The others are in the Koegelberg, West Coast and Waterberg regions. In September 2001 Kruger to Canyons was registered by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) as the the 411th biosphere reserve in 94 countries worldwide, under its International Man and Biosphere Programme.According to the programme, biosphere reserves are regions where internationally important protected areas, like the Kruger National Park, lie next to human settlements.People in the area may have been displaced when the reserves were declared, remaining on the margins and increasing pressure on local resources, exposing entire ecosystems to stress.Restricted or prohibited access to communities’ historic resource base may have changed land-use patterns for the worse.The people living in the Kruger to Canyons reserve are predominantly black (97%), unskilled, illiterate and rurally based.Morgan Lewele, chairperson of the biosphere initiative, said the launch came after seven years of consultations between all involved.“The realisation that we all have a responsibility to protect the environment has created a common bond between us,” Lewele said at the launch. “Our mission will be to maintain the K2C biosphere as an eminent conservation and development model.”Public meetings were held during the consultation process, where biosphere components such as core areas, buffer zones and transitional regions were identified.At the launch, a Unesco certificate confirming Kruger to Canyon’s biosphere status was handed to Collins Chabane, Limpopo MEC for the environment.Chabane told the gathering that the biosphere reserve concept sought to place environmental protection at the centre of economic development. Ecotourism was expected to create a large number of jobs, he said.He also announced the launch of an educational programme to promote environmental protection and the responsible use of natural resources.“We have not merely inherited this land from our forefathers; we’ve borrowed it from our children,” Chabane said.The reserveSouth Africa is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, according to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The K2C biosphere contains widely diverse landscapes, ranging from 300m above sea level in the east to over 2 000m in the Drakensburg Escarpment.Kruger to Canyons is the third-largest biosphere in the world. It is home to game, commercial and crop farming, tourism and related enterprises, as well as 149 mammal, 510 bird and 57 fish species.The average rainfall ranges from 368mm a year to 3 000mm on the plateau. These two factors help create a wide variety of habitats and niches for flora and fauna.The K2C covers three biomes: savannah woodlands, afromontane forests and montane grasslands. These protected areas cover some 4.8-million hectares, including transfrontier and escarpment regions.These make up a unique constellation of public, provincial, private reserves and natural resource areas. Man and biosphereIn terms of Unesco’s Man and Biosphere Programme, biosphere reserves offer political processes to stimulate the sustainable use of resources within a framework of economic empowerment and growth.The philosophy is one of development and public participation through education, training and involvement in research and monitoring.A biosphere reserve has three roles:Development, combining conservation with the sustainable use of the ecosystem to benefit local communities.Conservation, protecting local genetic resources, plant and animal species, and ecosystems and landscapes of value to maintain biological diversity.Logistic support, providing research, monitoring education and training opportunities through exchanges organised within the framework of Unesco’s international network.Each biosphere reserve has three zones: a core area devoted to strict protection, a delineated buffer zone where only activities compatible with conservation objectives can take place, and a transition zone used for sustainable resource management in cooperation with local communities.DevelopmentThe 1.5-million people living in the K2C area are predominantly black (97%), unskilled and rurally based. There are huge social and economic inequalities.Most of the people live in poor-rural conditions: only 50% functional literacy, high levels of male absenteeism, low direct incomes and a high percentage of young people.Ninety percent live outside urban areas, compared with a national average of 35%. Some 20% of the population is under the age of four, and half are under 15 years old.A high proportion of the population is not economically active, with households relying on subsistence farming, old-age pensions and remittances from relatives working outside the area to survive.Limpopo has the lowest per capita income of the provinces in South Africa and the highest unemployment rate: almost 51% of the rural population is jobless.There are a number of development initiatives under way in the Kruger to Canyons region. They range from broad empowerment to the transfer of ownership and conversion of marginal agricultural land to commercially viable ecotourism destinations, such as the governmental Phalaborwa sub-corridor initiative, to the establishment and registration of a new community school, the Hope School.There is an effort to establish what will probably be the last consolidation of privately owned game lands into an official nature reserve in the Central Lowveld region, the Blyde-Olifants Conservancy.Part of this effort is the inclusion of local community interests through the Maburuburung Trust.SouthAfrica.info reporter Want to use this article in your publication or on your website?See: Using SAinfo materiallast_img