The Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) component of the BLU project convened a capacity building session for municipal officials in Ehlanzeni responsible for Integrated Development Planning (IDP) and Environmental Management to craft a shared understanding and value of biodiversity and how it can support with delivery services to the residents in the municipalities.

With more than twenty representatives in attendance from the Ehlanzeni District Municipality (EDM) and the three local municipalities namely Bushbuckridge, City of Mbombela, and Thaba Chweu the capacity building session took place on 17 May at the Lowveld Botanical Garden.

The day started with a guided walk into the Lowveld Botanical Garden where participants were guided by three SANBI tour guides, showcasing the riverine, forest ecosystems and medicinal plants as well as the various plants, tree species and their habitats. The guided walk ended at the medicinal plant garden where everyone’s curiosity was awaken to the uses of the different medicinal plants and their value in aiding human health.

Laying the foundational aspects of the capacity building session, team member Hulisani Magada gave a presentation and facilitated a discussion on ‘What is biodiversity?’ and examples of ecosystem restoration projects. Through this presentation, the importance of biodiversity and the role of ecosystem services in providing a number of services to all people, fauna and flora was highlighted, especially the role of ecosystem services in creating jobs and disaster risk reduction. There was active and robust engagement during this session.

Hellen Nonyane presented and facilitated a session on integrating biodiversity into Spatial Planning and Land Use Management (SPLUMA) processes emphasising the link between Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) and Spatial Development Frameworks (SDFs) including the legislative requirements.  It was quite imperative that from the onset there be common understanding by all IDP officials of the linkages between IDP’s and SDFs and how these municipal planning tools affect biodiversity when implemented.

Participants also engaged in discussions on ‘mainstreaming biodiversity into IDP’s. This session was done in the form of questions and answer format allowing officials to conceptualise questions that they should ask their line function departments in order to ensure biodiversity mainstreaming in programmes, projects and budget allocation; and how to further leverage external funding in cases where the municipality is unable to fund biodiversity projects due to competing budget priorities for delivery of basic services.

At the end of session with the Ehlanzeni Integrated Development Planning and Environmental Management, Senior Manager at the EDM, Mr Sipho Tibane thanked all the participants for attending and requested that all recommendations from the training be captured in the form of a council report in order to institutionalize all the issues raised.

The PLUM component of the BLU project hosted a number of capacity building platforms in the last few months.  A more recent workshop was held on 23 July with EDM councillors. The aim of the workshop was to impart information to the councillors on the importance of the interpretation and incorporation of biodiversity priorities into land-use planning and decision making processes.  Discussions with the councillors also included how to identify biodiversity-related projects for ecosystem restoration as well as poverty alleviation and job creation.

In order to make equitable decisions and take informed actions, all role players need to understand the value of the aspects being decided upon. By building our collective capacity, the BLU Project aims to create a shared value and understanding of biodiversity that will result in the improvement of the regulation of land use and management of priority biodiversity at the municipal scale.

The BLU Project partnered with various agencies in the Ehlanzeni, uMgungundlovu, Cape Winelands and Amathole Districts respectively, to support these municipalities in effectively regulating land use and environmental management in order to ensure that biodiversity continues to provide essential ecosystem services to municipal residents.

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