Various regulatory authorities in the biodiversity sector co-developed a biodiversity sector guidelines aimed at improving land use regulation as it relates to the clearance of indigenous vegetation for legal and illegal agricultural activities in the region of Ehlanzeni, in Mpumalanga.  This is in response to the need to utilize agricultural resources more sustainably in order to ensure that land with good functioning ecosystems and an array of biodiversity is available to future generations.

Sustainable agriculture is one of the important components for the GDP of South Africa. However, according to the Terrestrial detailed report in the National Biodiversity Assessment 2018, land clearing for croplands is one of the key drivers of habitat loss, which has contributed to the loss of 21% of South Africa’s natural terrestrial ecosystem extent. The conversion of natural lands into agriculture and the intensification of agriculture with inadequate land use advice and regulation being provided to the farmers results in not just habitat loss but also alteration of ecosystem function and services.

Mpumalanga province is one of South Africa’s biodiversity hotspots that is also faced with a fast growing trend of cultivated land. Most of this agricultural expansion occurs within old lands of the province, particularly at the Ehlanzeni Region. This region was systematically selected for the implementation of SANBI’s Biodiversity and Land Use (BLU) project, and the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs (DARDLEA) was selected as one of the implementers of this project in the area.

Due to the observation of the trend of vegetation clearance for the cultivation of macadamia nuts, avocado and citrus, SANBI’s BLU project together with DARDLEA have initiated the development of a guideline that will improve land use regulation concerning the clearance of indigenous vegetation for legal and illegal agricultural activities in the region of Ehlanzeni, in Mpumalanga.

Further objectives of the guideline is to inform the formulation of mitigation measures and Environmental Assessment conditions, curb the adverse effects of illegal agricultural activities, and create a decision-making framework that will allow officials to adequately assess biodiversity loss for the purpose of Section 24G applications. Section 24G is a NEMA regulated process for rectification of illegal commencement of activities listed on the EIA Regulations.

The targeted stakeholders (guideline users) include the Environmental Assessment Practitioners and specialists, farmers, all land use regulating authorities, and other relevant authorities and stakeholders such as Catchment Management Agencies and Farmers Associations.

A range of existing tools were taken into consideration when developing these guidelines including the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Sector Plan, soil map for agricultural potential, national assets in terms of forests, water resource classification and other local government tools such as Integrated Development Plans, Spatial Development Frameworks and Environmental Management Frameworks.

The guideline aims to improve land use regulation as it relates to the clearance of indigenous vegetation for legal and illegal agricultural activities in the region of Ehlanzeni, in Mpumalanga, and was developed with cooperation from various regulatory authorities that are directly and indirectly affected by activities associated with the clearance of indigenous natural vegetation.

The authorities that participated included Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, City of Mbombela, and Ehlanzeni District Municipality.

The guideline is in draft form and will be shared once finalised.

Article by: Thobile Nyathi and Rosina Masango

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