The Hot Spot – Dr Roelie Kloppers
Swaziland – from sugarcane to protected landscape
July 12, 2012
When most people think of Swaziland, they probably think of candle factories or of a monarchy thats always in the news for Mugabian reasons, either buying a new private plane or throwing another lavish party. It’s a real pity that the monarch’s glamourous lifestyle dominates news from Swaziland. Not to say these stories aren’t entertaining, but it’s always better to get good news and that’s just what I found when I visited the country last month.
The landscape of this small landlocked country in Southern Africa is almost completely dominated by vast sugarcane plantations. In fact, sugar is the base of the economy of Swaziland, employing nearly35% of the workforce. Softdrinks is one of the primary exports of Swaziland and most of the country’s trade (90%) is with South Africa. While driving through the sugarcaned landscape I kept searching for remnants of un-transformed bushveld areas. Driving northwards from the Golela border post the first sign of inspiration is the new Royal Jozini Big 6 Reserve. Here, a group of visionary businessmen and conservationists are returning degraded cattle lands around Lake Jozini to pristine bushveld. The area is now fenced and a modest amount of game has returned. It should eventually link to the Pongola Nature Reserve in South Africa as part of a Transfrontier Conservation Initiative. In South Africa this could include the Zululand Conservation Corridor and run as far south as Phinda, but let me stick to the Swaziland story for now! A few kilometers north of Royal Jozini communities along the Lubombo Mountains are also trying their hand at brining areas under conservation and establishing Eco-tourism ventures. Further north along the Lubombo Mountains lies Swaziland’s largest conservation areas – Hlane Royal National Park and Mlawula.These reserves have also been earmarked to form part of a Transfrontier Initiative – in this case linking with a conservation area in Mozambique.
When I visited Swaziland last month I met with a group of visionary conservationist who feel it would be possible to create a conservation corridor that would link all these areas on the eastern side of of the country into a mega- protected landscape. As crazy as this may seem, it just might work and it would also link three Transfrontier Parks thus establishing a mega-reserve,linking the Lubombo Mountains and the Indian Ocean! This remains long-term planning – for now the aim is to create a Protected Landscape along the Lubombo Mountains. These Mountains are home to some of the rarest cycads and other endemic flora, yet are not protected in any of the three countries for which the Mountains form a natural border. We have been able to partner with our group of visionaries, and this is the first grant ever of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund in Swaziland. I am going to visit the area various times over the next three years and will report on progress made in acheiving a considerable conservation impact in southern Africa. Good luck to all involved!