Mpumalanga was the place to be this May as Project Steering Committee representatives of two Global Environment Facility (GEF) 5 funded projects made their way to convene and take in the sights of this beautiful landscape.

The two GEF funded projects, namely SANBI’s Biodiversity and Land Use Project and the SANParks Protected Areas Project coordinated their respective Project Steering Committee meetings to take place during the week of 13 May.  This was done in order to create more strategic connections between the two projects as well as for both Committees to participate in a joint site visit that took place on 15 May.

Northern Mpumalanga being an area where the two projects overlap spatially in terms of implementation, the area was ideal to show the work that the two projects are contributing to in the landscape and the ripple effects of the work into the extended landscape.  No project is without its implementation challenges, thus the joint site visit also allowed for strategic discussion around the challenges experienced by partners and ideas shared on how these challenges can be addressed.

Implementing partners Kruger to Canyons and the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency hosted the field trip.  Participants had an early start traveling past Pilgrims Rest to the Morgenzon Forest Nature Reserve which provided a bird’s eye view on the various ecosystem services at play in a landscape as well as the impact of mining proposals that could potentially threaten this catchment which feeds a $ 1 billion export agriculture sector downstream.

Chris Pickup, Frik Bronkhurst and Nicholas Theron provided information and facilitated discussions around the extent of the mining applications and its potential impact not only on the biodiversity and agricultural production but also the tourism industry, which is one of the main economic drivers in the area.  The breathtaking views at Gods Window was the next stop, where Project Steering Committee representatives had the opportunity to engage with the Chair of the Blyde Communal Property Association (CPA), Mr Lourence Mogakane.

Mr Mogakane is also the national chairperson of the People and Parks Programme and serves on the SANParks board.  Mr Mogakane shared the journey and challenges experienced in establishing the Blyde CPA as well as the positive strides made by the CPA towards the management of the Blyde Nature Reserve.

The site visit concluded at the Graskop Lift, a new tourism attraction bringing much needed revenue into the region, where participants went on a walk of the gorge.  The walkway had informative interpretative signage along the way of the various fauna and flora indigenous to the area.  The objective of creating linkages between the Biodiversity and Land Use Project and the SANParks Protected Areas Project, funded by GEF through the UNDP was indeed realised.  The two Project Steering Committees were also able to address strategic and implementation issues common to both projects.

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