The Grasslands Programme may have successfully closed but the legacy lives on. This Programme has catalysed the reconfiguration of the relationship between biodiversity and agriculture sectors. In his reflective assessment to the overall implementation of the Grasslands Programme, an independent evaluator, Dr. Brian Child reckoned that “… technical and personal relationships were built [when the Programme was mainstreaming biodiversity into Agriculture sector]… and efforts may pay off in the future”.

There is no doubt that delegates at the 53rd Annual Grassland Society of Southern Africa (GSSA) Congress witnessed signs of the future that is due to pay off fully.

Delegates at the congress were reminded of how the agriculture sector benefits from a healthy and intact ecological infrastructure which underpinned most of productive agriculture landscapes in South Africa.

This includes stories of how maintenance and restoration of ecological infrastructure sustained the provision of water and forage, maintained fertile soil and food production while improving livelihood of the local people through jobs. These stories were all shared in two parallel sessions convened by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at the congress.

The first session looked at ways of exploring innovative models for rangeland stewardship for communal farming. This included funding opportunities and models that various partnership projects are using to encourage better management of rangelands.

Amongst others, the session received an inspirational story about a rangeland stewardship model which was shared by Ms Nicky McLeod of the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership Programme. This model is based on application of tested methodologies for restoration of degraded rangelands and building up of capable governance systems.

This model creates an enabling environment for introduction of sustainable practices for rangeland management that guarantee water security, food and resilient to climate change. The model also supports farming of healthy livestock which is a minimum requirement for market access that generates revenue for rural farmers who are participating in this model.

The second session was looking at ways of distilling understanding of the concept of ecological infrastructure within the agriculture sector context. This took a historical account of how the concept was introduced in South Africa and how it relates to the agriculture sector.

Delegates heard how an investment in ecological infrastructure guarantees water and food security and promotes inclusive economic growth and development. It is in the same subject that SANBI has launched a five year Global Environment Facility funded, Ecological Infrastructure for Water Security Project totalling to almost R90 million .

The project aims to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into planning, finance and development in the water sector to improve water security and will be implemented through partnerships with the relevant spheres of government, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic institutions and the public. This Programme, although using water as an entry point, will benefit agriculture sector which is one of the biggest users of water in South Africa according to the published draft version of the Water and Sanitation Master Plan.

As part of the congress-wide field trips, SANBI in partnership with Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), City of Tshwane and Friends of Colbyn Valley have organised a tour to the Colbyn Wetland to demonstrate the value of restoring and maintaining of the wetlands and the benefits that flows from it.

The wetland plays a crucial role in the water provision for Roodeplaat Dam which supplies water for human consumption and irrigation for agriculture in and around Pretoria. Through this congress, SANBI sustained its proud reputation of facilitating, co-ordinating and integration of various communities of practice and convening learning network platforms that benefits the biodiversity sector.

The conference took place at the Agricultural Research Council Training Centre in Roodeplaat, Pretoria from 22-27 July 2018. It was attended by various representative from academic, civil society, private and government representatives.

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