The Healthy Catchment Alliance (HCA) is a formal partnership between local South African NGOs the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) and Conservation South Africa (CSA). This NGO collaboration brings together our different skill sets, expertise and experience and maximizes our impact in all of our project sites across southern Africa. In an effort to address the challenges of food and water security, as well as increasing human populations coupled with very limited access to resources and economic opportunities, the HCA aims to protect and support the management of key river catchments while at the same time stimulating change in conservation perceptions and driving local green economies. We are also piloting innovative approaches, such as Population Health and Environment (PHE) and catchment restoration techniques that will inform the way landscapes are managed through governmental contracts. 2014 was a fantastic year of growth and expansion for the HCA, with many exciting developments. We have achieved many of our targets already (including: securing and managing high priority biodiversity sites, developing species conservation plans, improving management of over 500ha of land, establishing two community forums, signing up 16 EcoSchools and registering five new Eco-Businesses).
Integration of disciplines is at the very core of the Healthy Catchment Alliance strategy. As separate NGOs, we each have our areas of specialisation, but working together, we all benefit from a wide range of expertise. The Alliance also brings in other partners where appropriate and this allows us to, not only work in the conservation space but also human health, gender empowerment, micro-enterprise development, education and early childhood development. We believe that conservation issues cannot be solved in isolation. It is only through a highly integrated and holistic strategy that we can create happy communities, living in healthy catchments.
This initiative is based on a number of years of foundational conservation work within the communities of the project area. We have developed excellent relationships with community members as well as the broader stakeholder groups in the catchments (Amathole Catchment Forum, UmZimvubu Catchment Partnership Programme). Furthermore, our conservation strategy is guided by sound research – we have formal partnerships with research institutions, such as the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the Rhodes University Institute for Water Research – and our approach is that of evidence-based conservation action. This is backed up by strong and regular community engagement to ensure we have local support and that we all benefit from a two-way learning exchange platform. We have also implemented livestock improvement programme in these sites to benefit local communities through vaccination of their livestock and facilitation of access to the red meat market. Our partners, CSA (together with Environmental and Rural Solutions-ERS) have organised livestock auctions that have directly brought in about R1.3 million to communities. This has helped people realise the importance of the catchment restoration work being done. This is bringing much needed income to families, while at the same time protecting the natural capital on which they rely.
We believe that the Healthy Catchment Alliance partnership reflects a great deal of wisdom in that NGOs working together as opposed to parallel (or sometimes in competition) is highly beneficial to each organisation, the communities as well as the environment. We are stronger together than we are in isolation. By working in a highly integrated way, we are able to address multiple issues that intersect with each other (environmental, health, social, economic) to the maximum benefit of both people and their environment. We believe that the challenges of sustainable economic development need to be met with a deep understanding of the ecological and social context and only then can solutions be found with the full support of the communities for which they are meant. In the UmZimvubu and UmZimkhulu catchments we have employed and trained eight EcoRangers to work with the EWT African Crane Conservation Programme in southern Kwa-Zulu Natal and Eastern Cape. The EcoRangers have been a huge success story and are doing excellent work within the project, where they assist with conservation management, farm worker training and environmental monitoring. They are really flying the flag as future conservationists and we continue to assist in developing their careers further.
Our joint approach to natural resource management incorporates a number of innovations, some of which are still in their pilot phases and the value of this partnership has been largely felt through shared learning of these approaches. We start with the end in mind, which is a resilient, diverse and productive catchment with communities with no social ills and with access to good economic opportunities. One of the ways we hope to achieve this is through the “Green Economy”. Through developing micro-enterprises in bee-keeping and honey production, compost producers, etc. and supporting these entrepreneurs, we are moving towards our vision.