Provinces challenged to manage their land more sustainably

By Bonnie Schumann, EWT Drylands Conservation Programme,

The UNDP-GEF5 Sustainable Land Management (SLM) Project and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) recently brought Engineering Technicians and LandCare officials together for a unique SLM challenge. The officials, all experts in soil erosion control, represented four provincial departments of agriculture from the Western-, Eastern- and Northern Cape, and the Free State. The challenge was hosted by the Samara Private Game Reserve near Graaff Reinet, in the Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) in the Eastern Cape, from 7–10 February 2022.

The four teams were tasked to assess three sites on Samara with varying severities of soil erosion that are typically found in the region. The teams were challenged to develop practical, cost-effective and replicable technologies and approaches to addressing the soil erosion issues. The degradation is primarily caused by historical grazing practices that were not ideal and is compounded by continuous grazing by game. What makes veld regeneration in this landscape particularly challenging is the topography in the area. The catchments are large and consist of mostly steep slopes, which result in high volume, very erosive runoff directed towards the lower slopes, where soils are vulnerable to erosion. The protracted drought experienced in the Karoo over the last approximately eight years resulted in a loss of vegetation cover, leaving soils exposed and vulnerable to both wind and water erosion.

The spirit between the provincial teams was positive, open, and cooperative, with high levels of camaraderie. Teams shared survey results, advice, and suggestions. Training of younger technicians formed an integral component of this knowledge sharing initiative. The collective institutional experience of the team was around 400 years, which is really astonishing considering there were only 14 participants. The challenge was concluded with a knowledge-sharing workshop and seminar. Participants on the last day included the Samara Management Team, neighbouring farmers, and two senior government officials from the Western- and Northern Cape responsible for Sustainable Land Management. The provincial teams presented their suggested soil conservation plans, and some lively discussions followed. In summary, all the participants agreed that this wealth of technical knowledge is critically important for SLM and soil conservation in the drylands. We need to ensure that this hard-earned experience and “institutional” knowledge needs to be shared with the next generation of soil technicians.

The next step will entail compiling these case studies and sharing the information with all the stakeholders in the MZCPE and throughout the drylands to encourage soil conservation action. Watch this space!

This initiative formed part of the United Nations Development Programme’s GEF 5 SLM Project – Small Grants initiative. The EWT, through their Karoo Forever SLM project, is responsible for the implementation of small grants in the Karoo landscape.