Conservation without the inclusion of people does not always work. In order to address the issue of South Africa being environmentally sound, education and training is vital because not everyone is aware of the fact that our ecosystems are threatened. As a Community Development student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and an intern of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), I have come to realise that increasing beneficiary consultation during project planning or beneficiary involvement in the management of project implementation or operation also increases project efficiency. One of the TAP projects that can attest to the latter is the vegetable garden project at Isipingo in KwaZulu-Natal. This project includes four local gardeners that used to plant their vegetables in a threatened wetland, which partly disturbed its wellbeing. With proper engagement and through a conservation agreement drawn up with the gardeners, they have since moved out of the wetland and now plant on the edge where their activities pose no threat its wellbeing. Of course, this was not an easy task but it is amazing how community projects can run smoothly if stakeholders are properly engaged and are made part of the project, as this empowers them.
Another exciting project that that seeks to develop the communities with which we work with is the National Resource Management (NRM) project. Here we look at empowering our hardworking alien vegetation clearing teams through toolbox talks. Toolbox talks are used to engage alien vegetation clearing workers in Durban on issues of the environment and getting them to change their attitudes towards nature, but focusing on frogs and wetlands. I have seen how excited these toolbox talks make the teams to work with nature and to get more involved, rather than just clearing alien plants and going home. Teams are now able to do monitoring of any species they come across, be it fauna or flora, which is important because we need to know what other species are found around our working areas. Workers’ attitude surveys help us understand how the teams feel about the project; that is if they are happy or not and if they have any challenges. The surveys are done using an individual questionnaire that is confidential to make sure that everyone shares their experiences without any fear. It is heart-warming to see that teams now understand the reason behind their work and how it is important not only to them but to the whole ecosystem. A lesson that I have learnt working in these projects is that community development does not always have to take the form of monetary benefits, but one can also develop a community by sharing knowledge and education.
This work is made possible by Rand Merchant Bank, Rufford Foundation and Disney Conservation Fund.