By Dr. Emmanuel Torquebiau
French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and Centre for Environmental Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa
The Usuthu Gorge area, to the North West of the KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, is part of the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot. Part of the Lubombo Transfrontier Conservation Area (under an international protocol with Mozambique and Swaziland), the Usuthu Gorge supports a range of touristic, eco-touristic, and cultural opportunities such as biodiversity reserves, scenic beauty, and community-based tourism. It is also largely comprised of untouched and pristine areas, the target of both conservationists and developers. It is also home for about 50,000 small-scale farmers. This mosaic of land use constitutes a de facto ecoagriculture landscape which needs to be recognized and fostered before it disappears. Although the area has been identified as a priority intervention zone by the local Jozini Municipality, no integrated development plan has been proposed so far.
The area was isolated from the mainstream economy until the advent of democracy in 1994. Local farms are highly dependent on natural resources for day to day survival. Low literacy and poor access to markets and infrastructure generate abject poverty and food shortages. Women support the burden of family’s livelihood with little external support.
Since 2008, the Centre for Environmental Studies at the University of Pretoria, in partnership with CIRAD, has launched a research programme in the Usuthu Gorge area in order to assess the feasibility of ecoagriculture practices. Results indicate that existing conditions are conducive for a multifunctional integrated agricultural landscape, provided the relationships between farmers’ practices and biodiversity are better formalized and there are tangible benefits for farmers to opt for this approach.
Charts drawn by local people about environmental and livelihood concerns reflect their vision of the future and revealed a strong focus towards improved livelihoods based on better harvests, infrastructure development (water, roads) and job creation. There was comparatively little attention to biodiversity enhancement. There are no landscape-level decisions as such, and the existing mosaic of land uses appears to be a consequence of historical trends and dramatic socioeconomic transformations that have turned original transhumant livestock keepers into sedentary farmers. However, the presence of a unique combination of stakeholders in the area (farmers, tribal institutions, conservation agencies, researchers, NGOs, local administration, etc.) creates conditions conducive to effective coordinated ecoagriculture planning.
The Usuthu Gorge Landscape nevertheless appears to be at a turning point. No action would probably result in increased poverty and isolation of the area, or a biodiversity-only focus, supported by a strong conservation lobby. To foster a landscape where people and nature interact, as defined by the Peace Parks Foundation for Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs), there is a need to promote a “soft conservation” approach where the dual challenge of combining biodiversity conservation and rural development can be achieved. Unfortunately, no clear policy is currently available to support such an approach.
Capacity development would also be required to spread the idea of landscape thinking in land management practices. Landscape labelling, in order to generate added-value for locally produced goods and services, appears to be an option. Payments and rewards for ecosystem services is another alternative. There is a need for improved intergovernmental links between the three countries with respect to the governance of the TFCA. All these initiatives have been discussed at length with a variety of stakeholders and constitute a strong foundation for the further development of the area. Research results are now available and need to be transformed into actual implementation.
The project is a collaborative between CFES, CIRAD, AGRISETA, the Lubombo TFCA Committee, the Wildlands Conservation Trust, Ezemvelo-KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife and the Usuthu Gorge Community Committee. It seeks to recognize and develop this unique landscape for the benefit of the local people. Preliminary contacts have been established with Woolworths Holdings in South Africa with respect to marketing of labelled products.
Torquebiau, E., Dosso, M., Nakaggwa, F. and Philippon, O. 2012. Biodiversity Conservation through Farming: A Landscape Assessment in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36: 296–318
Chitakira, M., Torquebiau, E. & Ferguson, W. 2012. Unique Combinations of Stakeholders in a Transfrontier Conservation Area Promote Biodiversity-Agriculture Integration. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36: 275–295
Chitakira, M., Torquebiau, E and Ferguson, W. 2012. Community visioning in a transfrontier conservation area in southern Africa paves the way towards landscapes combining agricultural production and biodiversity conservation. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.