South Africa: Supporting local communities by preserving biodiversity

The government has once again demonstrated its commitment to ensure local communities are supported and nurtured while ensuring the country’s unique natural environments and resources are preserved.

Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Barbara Creecy demonstrated this commitment by formally opening the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden on Sunday as part of celebrations of International Biodiversity Day.

The International Day was celebrated under the motto “Building a Common Future for All Life”, which was aptly captured during the launch process.

According to the minister, the establishment of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden paves the way for future initiatives aimed at protecting the country’s precious biodiversity while uplifting and supporting local communities, thereby continuing to teach South Africans to build a common future for all life .

“Preserving and restoring ecosystems such as wetlands, rivers, and watersheds can reduce the catastrophic impacts of extreme weather events, including floods and droughts,” Creecy said.

The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden complements South Africa’s network of national botanical gardens by contributing approximately 82 hectares of the Soutpansberg Mountain Bushveld. Since only 2.2% of this endangered type of vegetation is currently under formal protection, the declaration and introduction is a conservation gain for the country and its people.

Located within the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, the country’s largest biosphere reserve, the garden is home to a number of unique species of butterflies, insects and endangered plant species. Of particular importance, not only for conservation but also for local communities, are the various plant species that have important medicinal properties and values.

“The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) believes the plan for Thohoyandou Garden will increase its educational value, financial viability and interest and support from visitors, tourists and the local community, which places multiple values ​​on people of plants communicated in the most innovative yet culturally appropriate manner,” said SANBI Chair Prof. Edward Nesamvuni.

The Botanical Garden aims to play a role in highlighting and promoting native plants used for food, African art, medicine, perfumes, traditional architecture, horticulture and agriculture, and a garden that serves to promote the connection between people and biodiversity strengthen.

The infrastructure housing the garden will serve as a biodiversity hub for the province, showcasing traditional botanical garden features and scientific research facilities.

“As a nature-based, cultural and scientific tourism attraction, the garden will contribute to the socio-economic development of the area and support the surrounding communities including youth, students and local businesses. In addition to the protection and socio-economic value that the garden has, it also has insurmountable cultural significance, particularly for members of the Mphaphuli community who live in and around the area,” said the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Community Support Garden

The land, which is now under the land’s protected area, was part of a land claim filed by the communities of Mphaphuli and Tshiluvhi, who have been forcibly evicted from their lands in the past.

“These communities, who have agreed to the government’s offer to be financially compensated for their country and to make their country part of a larger initiative, have already seen and appreciated the essence of what building a common future means for all life,” so called the ministry.

This garden will continue to support communities by ensuring access to ancestral tombs and ruins; Ensuring historical recognition through the naming of structures in the garden, including traditional designs adapted from the rich traditional knowledge of the Mphaphuli community.

The garden will also host workshops for traditional leaders and healers to raise awareness of the sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants; local students will also benefit from educational programs; and overall the garden will create temporary employment opportunities for local communities.

“South Africa is equipped with a range of interventions to address biodiversity challenges and negative impacts on people. The strategic implementation of these interventions and their translation into impactful actions will help to maintain a holistic approach to conservation, with the relationship between nature and people at the forefront,” according to the department.

One such strategic policy intervention is the National Botanical Gardens Expansion Strategy released in 2019.

“The strategy aims to first establish at least one botanical garden in each province; secondly, to ensure that all biomes are represented when establishing new botanical gardens, and finally to expand existing national botanical gardens, as we recently did for the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in the Western Cape,” said Creecy.

The establishment, future developments and improvements of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden will be aligned with this strategy.

About Thelma Wilt

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