Source to Sea Programme

Marico Catchment Conservation Project

Project Outline

The project was named: A Re Itireleng 'Let's do it ourselves' by the local community focus group in the spirit of empowerment and independence. It is very much a community-led approach to enhancing sustainable water management and green economy for the benefit of people and the environment in the Marico River Catchment, South Africa. This is a unique catchment and one of the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas (NFEPA) in the North West Province of South Africa. The headwaters of the Marico River are one of the few remaining free-flowing stretches of river in the country (and the only one in the North West Province). This river has become a flagship river of national importance due to its good condition, high biodiversity and cultural value. The project will protect this strategically important water resource and will have a particular focus on youth development and increasing women’s agency, that is empowering women to make their own economic, social and health decisions, ensuring community benefits are as widespread as possible.


The Marico River catchment is a key water resource area and a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area (NFEPA). The Marico River suppliers water to the town of Groot Marico, the commercial farmlands downstream of the town, the traditional communities of Koffiekraal, Pella, Uitkyk and Pachtsdraai, as well as Gaborone through the Tswasa Agreement. It is also the headwaters of the Limpopo Basin. Currently this water resource is under severe pressure as a result of drought. The agricultural dams are at record low levels and some have been closed to users in early 2016. The traditional communities downstream of the irrigation scheme have very limited access to the scheme and rely heavily on groundwater. Sanitation facilities are basic with most settlements using septic tanks, French drains or pit latrines. A wastewater treatment plant has been planned for the town but has not yet been built.

Location of the Marico River (EWISA)

The project will protect this strategically important water resource and improve catchment governance and management at all levels, through partnerships within the Healthy Catchment Alliance (HCA). The indirect threats to this catchment result from climate change caused by the increasing number of people and their consumption patterns at the global level. The direct local impacts on this catchment are caused by increasing local populations, who require ever more water and the lack access to sustainable economic opportunities they need to support their families. The North West is the South African province with the second highest fertility rate nationwide and in rural areas, such as around Groot Marico, the rate is even higher than the provincial average. The reasons for this are largely twofold: (a) lack of knowledge on the part of communities as to their contraceptive options and commonly held myths, and (b) structural barriers to voluntary family planning services in the clinics themselves (due to lack of knowledge and lack of adequately trained clinical staff).

Groot Marico is also home to many “emerging farmers”, whose land has been returned under recent land reform. These farmers require the financial and mentorship support to make sustainable livings. South Africa’s agricultural sector uses 62% of available surface water resources and the sector is not prepared for the effects of climate change. It is the emerging farmers, mainly from an economic perspective, who are the least able to manage the likely impacts of climate change. Empowering Groot Marico’s emerging farmers in conservation agriculture techniques (such as development of water-saving techniques and water-efficient crop/livestock selection) is therefore essential to maximise their economic opportunity, ensure ecosystem health along the length of the river, speed South Africa’s transformation to a nation where all people benefit from land ownership and to guard against climate change.

Project Impact

By supporting rural communities to enter into the green economy and thereby reduce dependency and demands on the overstretched water resource of the Marico River, it will foster improved water resource management and stakeholder cooperation within the catchment. By establishing a number of “Living Farms” in a particularly vulnerable area (arid climate, erratic rainfall, and erosion problems) we will assist the emerging farmers to protect and sustainably manage their ecological capital. Healthy and diverse ecosystems provide essential agricultural services, such as the increased provision and purification of water; protection against extreme events; pollination, grazing and increased soil fertility.

Because we take an integrated approach to catchment conservation, we are contributing towards many of the newly developed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an under-resourced region that is particularly vulnerable to climate change and poverty. Below are the SDGs that this project addresses:

The socio-economic outcomes of the project will be trained and capacitated emerging farmers and entrepreneurs in a particularly vulnerable and poverty-stricken area that can support themselves and their communities, while contributing to the GDP in a sustainable way. Women in this community will be able to enter the marketplace and contribute towards the economy through training and support in micro-enterprise and livelihood diversification. The project will facilitate the linkages between the producers and the market and assist with the development of “fair trade” marketing mechanisms, as part of our engagement with the corporate sector.

The specific impacts we are working towards on this project are:

  1. Improved catchment and water management practices that ensure the greatest degree of water security and resource protection under changing climatic conditions. This will be achieved through well-trained emerging farmers who are receiving the necessary support and mentorship to sustain these practices.
  1. Communities that are well prepared and ready to adapt to the potential risks of climate change, through the development of adaptation strategies with on-farm demonstration and experimentation. Adaptation strategies will include conservation agriculture practices including rain water harvesting, land zonation, permaculture and will prioritise indigenous knowledge and local adaptive responses.
  1. An informed and engaged catchment community where the youth are included in integrated water resource management. The support for an inclusive Catchment Management Forum, with a focus on information dissemination through “citizen science” will strengthen water governance in this catchment significantly.
  1. An active citizen science network, collecting data on river condition and flows at WESSA EcoSchools in the catchment. This will feed into a local monitoring programme, in partnership with provincial conservation agencies.
  1. A robust and innovative “Green Economy" that supports women and youth to develop sustainable micro-enterprises and diversify the livelihood opportunities.
  1. Economic stability and market support for small-scale producers in this catchment by facilitating the market and supply-chain links through a cross-sectoral approach.
  1. Improved community education on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy and greater access to family planning services, thereby increasing women’s’ agency and reducing the demand on natural resources over the long term.

Baseline projects have already made headway with other priority activities such as alien invasive species removals and catchment rehabilitation, expansion of the protected area network (in line with the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy as UNESCO) to protect threatened ecosystems and species through Biodiversity Stewardship and the building of partnerships for effective management of areas not under formal protection, especially freshwater ecosystem priority areas, critical biodiversity areas, ecological support areas and threatened ecosystems.


Beneficiaries will include all who reside in the Marico catchment through improvements in water resource management, however the direct beneficiaries are currently members from the following communities:

  • Koffiekraal village (Community Property Association)
  • Reboile settlement (African Pride Nature Conservation Association)

We work with both youth and women’s groups in each community. At a broader level, beneficiaries include all residents of the Marico catchment through improvements in water resource management, with downstream impacts on the Limpopo River Basin. The Endangered Wildlife Trust has been working in this area since 2010 and has developed strong partnerships with local leaders in the communities of the Marico Catchment.



JP Le Roux: Marico Catchment Conservation Project Coordinator email