Wildlands and eThekwini Municipality Join Forces
September 8, 2008
By Nicky Furniss
In a new initiative, the eThekwini Municipality and the Wildlands Conservation Trust,are joining forces to create a carbon sink in the eThekwini Municipal Area. While this will be the third carbon sink piloted by Wildlands, the project is unique in the fact that it will be its first with the added benefit of also greening a designated landfill buffer area.
About a year ago, Wildlands approached the eThekwini Municipality’s Environmental Management Department and the two parties initiated an assessment of land in the municipal area with a view to setting up a carbon sink project. Dr Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands, explains the basic criteria that potential carbon sink sites had to meet: “We looked for areas within the municipal area where there should be natural forest, but which currently aren’t forests, either due to some form of transformation or mismanagement.” Sixty possible sites were identified, but the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site buffer area was ultimately selected as the site with the most potential for implementation of a carbon sink project in the short term. The eThekwini Municipality intends to implement more carbon sink projects at some of the other priority sites identified in this study within the next 3 to 5 years.
The Buffelsdraai Landfill site, a 900 hectare former sugar cane farm lying roughly between Verulam and Inanda, has taken the eThekwini Municipality seven years to acquire planning permission for. The municipality has purchased the entire area with the intention of utilizing only 100 hectares for the landfill, with the remaining 800 hectares surrounding it acting as a buffer zone. This in itself is a first in this country and Dr Venter was also impressed by the municipality’s cutting edge approach to waste management. Solid waste is becoming an increasingly large problem for most of South Africa’s urban areas, with more and more specialized methods required to deal with it. The eThekwini Municipality’s Solid Waste Department was one of the first in the country to pilot landfill gas to energy projects on their waste sites and have also established extensive recycling plants, which are now necessary to ensure that landfill sites are not over-utilised too quickly. Yet another area that Durban Solid Waste excels in, according to Dr Venter, is in the rehabilitation of landfills, helping to ensure that they blend into the surrounding landscape and are no longer an eyesore.
The buffer zone at the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site will serve this purpose by creating a conservancy around the landfill, which in time may be used as a recreational green area for the surrounding communities. The poorest and most needy members of these communities will also benefit by receiving an income from growing the trees necessary to reforest the site. With funding secured from DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency), The DG Murray Trust and with cross support from the Rand Merchant Bank funded Greening Your Future Project, Wildlands will be initiating their ‘tree-preneurs’ programme in the Osisweni and Buffelsdraai settlements, whereby 2-300 orphans in each area will be given a chance to earn money from growing indigenous trees for the carbon sink. Unilever will also be funding a further 300 tree-preneurs in the Kwamashu area. The municipality is currently collecting seeds of local indigenous trees near the project site, and it is these that the tree-preneurs will propagate over the next couple of years.
Planting has already started, with trees acquired from existing tree-preneur programmes in the Waterloo and Ndwedwe settlements. Of the 800 hectares dedicated to the conservancy, 270 hectares is immediately available and suitable for restoration to forest. After an extensive ecological evaluation of the land, areas that were found to have originally been grassland will be restored to their grassland state, while the remaining portion of the land is still under sugarcane lease. Once the lease has expired “the land will be reviewed to see if it’s suitable for forest; or if it makes sense to renew the lease for sugarcane to provide economic opportunity in the area; or if it should be grassland ultimately we will restore it to grassland,” explains Dr Venter. “But ultimately in the next twenty years we aim to help eThekwini establish a formal conservancy, rehabilitate that 800 hectares back to its natural state of either forest or grassland and provide a really nice green area for those surrounding communities.”
The most exciting aspect of this project however, according to Dr Andrew Venter, has been Wildlands’ collaboration with eThekwini Municipality: “They are so advanced in their thinking and they’ve really embraced the concept, bought into the vision and raised funding towards it. And there’s undoubtedly a huge benefit that can be achieved from the impact of partnering with the third largest metropolitan municipality in the country. We [Wildlands] are a small organisation, so if we really want to achieve environmental change we have to influence the metro’s and get into local government, as that’s where change really happens. If this project works we are going to have 2-3000 hectares of degraded land reforested in Durban and they will be telling the world about it…and that’s what’s special about this site.”
Reproduced with kind permission from the Weekend Witness.Go back