The Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship Learning Exchange took place in Hluhluwe in Northern KwaZulu-Natal from 18 to 20 February, exceeding the expectations of both participants and co-hosts of the event. The learning exchange was co-hosted by the National Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI); with the support of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) under the theme “Reshaping Rural Development through the Biodiversity Economy.”

The location proved to be very strategic as the area is a Biodiversity Economy Node and has benefited from grants and support from government initiatives and programmes including DEFF’s Natural Resource Management Programmes, game donations and other forms of support from the DEFF Biodiversity Economy programme.

This learning exchange was convened five years after the last event which was held in Pietermaritzburg in 2015. The 2020 learning exchange was a response to the call from the National Biodiversity Stewardship Conferences of 2017 and 2018, which called for the revitalisation of the Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship Initiative.

The interest in the event far exceeded the hosts’ expectations, with 199 delegates participating in the learning exchange –  significantly more than the 120 delegates initially planned for.  In addition, more than 50% of the delegates were community beneficiaries consisting of Chiefs, Queens and iziNduna, making the learning exchange a real success.

The remaining delegates consisted of officials from various government departments (national and provincial) and non-governmental organisations. The learning exchange was opened and the scene set by SANBI’s Acting CEO, Ms Carmel Mbizvo; Chief Director of Biodiversity Management and Permitting at DEFF, Ms Skumsa Ntshanga as well as SANBI’s Chief Director of Policy Advice and Information Management, Ms Deshni Pillay.

Through the application of the ‘market stall’ workshop methodology, participants were able to ‘shop’ for information at the various community led stalls. This was a creative and highly engaging method where all delegates learned from the community beneficiaries who shared in their own voices the journey of their respective projects, their vision for their land in conservation and the lessons learnt to date.

This session directly spoke to one of the objectives of convening the learning exchange which was to encourage peer-learning amongst communities and invert the triangle of knowledge transfer by affording community beneficiaries the platform to share their stories.

The site visit to Mun-Ya-Wana Conservancy, also known as Phinda Private Game Reserve included a talk by a community rep from the Mnqobokazi CPA. This was another highlight of the learning exchange which sparked interesting conversations amongst the delegates. The capacity building sessions were another highlight of the learning exchange.

These sessions were practical, easy to relate to the work and the atmosphere was open to asking questions and encouraged active learning. The themes that were covered in the capacity building sessions were climate change adaptation and resilience, rangeland management, development of management plans and identifying biodiversity economy opportunities.

The learning exchange was well-received by all stakeholders and delegates and this was shown by the willingness, anticipation and active engagements at the event. This was supported by good planning executed by various partners, including supporters of Biodiversity Stewardship, the DEFF Biodiversity Economy & Biodiversity Planning colleagues and SANBI colleagues.

The learning exchange gave everyone working with Biodiversity Stewardship and  communities a chance to reflect on the LRBSI journey from its commencement in 2009. It also allowed for the chance to identify the lessons learnt and to celebrate the strides made with Biodiversity Stewardship, specifically growing beyond a protected areas expansion tool to addressing some of the socio-economic challenges of South Africa.

For more information, contact Natasha Wilson at

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