The past five and half years had been filled with so many successes under the Biodiversity stewardship component of the BLU project. Even though I joined the project on its third year of implementation I enjoyed seeing the stewardship work in South Africa grow and gain its momentum to be what and where it is today, said Mpho Ratshikhopa, Assistant Director Biodiversity Stewardship and Land Reform.
The Biodiversity Stewardship (BDS) component successfully established various communities of practice as a means of creating safe spaces where practitioners, community beneficiaries, policy makers, the NGO, private and government sectors come together and have conversations around issues impacting the successful implementation of biodiversity stewardship across the country. Some of the platforms which were established or strengthened under this component are the National Biodiversity Stewardship Technical Working Group, Biodiversity Stewardship Legal Reference Group, the National Biodiversity Stewardship Conferences (during the project tenure two national conferences had been convened). The major breakthrough was the revival of the Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative and its communities of practices including the LRBSI Learning exchange (the 2020 LRBSI LE was attended by 200 people coming from all corners of the country), the LRBSI Reference Group and the Bilateral platform between the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment and SANBI had been taking place.
One cannot narrate the story of biodiversity stewardship and leave the end of project hectares target to have 62,464 ha of biodiversity priority areas secured. At the end of the project, this target was exceeded with more than 81,000 ha secured and in various stages of the stewardship process namely: declared, submitted for declaration and or under negotiation with landowners. Under this component, through the support of various stakeholders the project undertook a pilot Biodiversity Management Plan for threatened Ecosystems which resulted in the Parsons Vlei Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP-E), the very first BMP-E in the country. The BMP-E was well received by the conservation fraternity and was presented at DFFE’s Working Group 1 where SANBI received support for it to be published for public comment.
One of the strengths of component two was the capacity building workshops aimed at both community beneficiaries and biodiversity stewardship implementors. The project successfully rendered the following capacity building workshops: implementing biodiversity stewardship on communal land, development of Management Plans for protected areas, implementation of the 2018 BDS Guideline, biodiversity stewardship and enterprise development for communities etc. As part of capacity building and information dissemination the project developed a set of resources including the Biodiversity stewardship for communities factsheet, information document for MECs focused on declaring biodiversity stewardship protected areas in South Africa, the Biodiversity Stewardship Business Case, the BDS guideline and so many other documents which can be easily accessed on the SANBI Biodiversity Advisor web page.
The project has made some strides with regards to finance for biodiversity stewardship. . The project saw the introduction of a amendments to the Income Tax Act (ITA), which allowed for landowners who invest in biodiversity stewardship to receive a tax break. 2016 saw the first successful appropriation of section 37D in a landowner’s tax return; and at the end of the project, more than 15 landowners have successfully utilised the incentive. Tax extension services was provided to qualifying protected areas countrywide; upscaling the mainstreaming of section 37D to communal and private landowners across South Africa.
The BLU project has also left its mark in two finance solution prioritised through the BIOFIN project, firstly the biodiversity stewardship finance solution which is exploring grant mechanisms or finance models for financing biodiversity stewardship and secondly the Biodiversity Economy Online Investment Portal Finance Solution were ten community stewardship sites have been screened as pilots sites for the investment portal .
For more information on the BDS successes please click on the link here.