By Bridget Corrigan, Manager: EWT Source to Sea Programme
The Marico Catchment Conservation Project is a fantastic example of how much can be achieved when there is community involvement and buy-in. A local community focus group has named the project A Re Itireleng (‘let’s do it ourselves’) and are committed to leading the way when it comes to enhancing sustainable water management and green economy for the benefit of people and the environment in the Marico River Catchment. What’s more, the project team is set to undertake their first full-scale integrated People Health Environment (PHE) programme, highlighting the importance that is placed on the connection between community and environment.
This project is being undertaken in an area of great conservation significance, which is currently being impacted by climate change and where the community members have, themselves identified the need for greater family planning provision. 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.
This approach allows us to work towards not only improved catchment and water management practices that ensure the greatest degree of water security and resource protection under changing climatic conditions, but also the development of an informed and engaged catchment community where the youth are included in integrated water resource management, and 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. A robust and innovative green economy supports women and youth to develop sustainable micro-enterprises and diversify the livelihood opportunities, and provides 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. The integrated approach also provides for 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.
The development of a local green economy is one of the key objectives that we are working on in the hopes that access to sustainable jobs and business opportunities will prevent communities from supporting unsustainable economic activities, such as mining in the area. To this end we have partnered with businesswomen, Mickaela Fay in a social enterprise silk production start-up. We are going to be working with the African Pride Nature Conservation Association (a group of young motivated people from Reboile, Marico) in setting up small-scale silk worm farms. We are currently developing the business plan and sourcing the materials and equipment for a pilot. We visited the African Silk Farm just outside Graskop in May 2016 (the only other South African producer) to find out more about the operations and management of such an enterprise. If this social enterprise proves to be viable, we will upscale and expand, thereby increasing the number of business and job opportunities available to the people in this community.