National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan



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Introduction and Background

 The development and implementation of the NBSAP is an ongoing and iterative process. The NBSAP and the National Biodiversity Framework (NBF) must be seen as a continual cycle of implementation, monitoring, review and revision. The significance of the NBSAP is that:

  • Biodiversity considerations are integrated into all other strategies and plans, such as poverty eradication strategies and development programmes
  • It will provide the road map for achieving the biodiversity related objectives contained in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, such as reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010
  • It will lay the groundwork for the National Biodiversity Framework (NBF) required in terms of Chapter 3 of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act of 2004
  • It will further develop the 1997 White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa's Biological Diversity; by translating policy goals into an implementation plan, with firm targets, clear roles and responsibilities, realistic timeframes and measurable indicators.

Stocktaking assessment

The stocktaking and assessment focused on the national spatial biodiversity assessment; sustainable use; social aspects of conservation; macroeconomics and poverty alleviation; policy and legal issues; and institutional capacity.

The thematic Task Teams and consultants working on the Stocktaking and Assessment phase generated a lot of useful information, which will help us identify what needs to be done to conserve biodiversity, use it wisely and make sure that there is fair sharing of the benefits.

Strategic objectives

The Goal of the NBSAP is to conserve and manage biodiversity to ensure sustainable benefits to the people of South Africa, through co-operation and partnerships that build on strengths and opportunities.

Strategic objectives of the NBSAP can be summarised as follows:

  • An enabling framework integrates biodiversity into the socio-economy
  • Biodiversity contributes to socioeconomic development and sustainable livelihoods
  • Biodiversity, including species, ecosystems and ecological processes, is effectively conserved across the landscape and seascape, with a focus on biodiversity priority areas
  • South Africa’s international obligations are met where feasible and in the national interest
  • A cross-cutting objective which relates to all the above objectives is: Enhanced institutional effectiveness and efficiency ensures good governance in the biodiversity sector.

Sustainable use

The sustainable use of South Africa's biodiversity resources was also assessed in terms of terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. The results show that where biodiversity-related industries are regulated, there is generally good information available on the use of species, but that there is very little information available on the extent and impact of informal use. Commercial fisheries are well regulated by Marine and Coastal Management (MCM). A set of policy guidelines for the allocation of commercial fishing rights has been published.

Criteria such as black economic empowerment (BEE), employment equity, investment and experience in the fishing industry are weighted in the selection process. Harvests are limited by Total Allowable Catches (TAC) prescribed by MCM. The regulation does not guarantee sustainability, however. For example, poaching has caused a severe decline in abalone populations and, unless curtailed, will lead to the commercial extinction of the species.

In contrast to commercial sectors, there is very poor regulation of subsistence fishing, especially in the Eastern Cape.

Subsistence fishers harvest a wide variety of fish and invertebrates. MCM has recently allocated a substantial budget to formalise subsistence fishing along the KwaZulu-Natal coast. The project is a collaborative effort between rural fishing communities, MCM and KZN Wildlife.

Line-fishing effort in estuaries along the KwaZulu-Natal coast is substantial. It is mostly a recreational activity, with subsistence line-fishing contributing a very small proportion of the total line-fishing effort. Generally line-fish species along the South African coast are over-exploited and stocks are in a severely depressed state.

With regard to terrestrial resources, aside from the wildlife management industry (including associated industries such as hunting and game meat) there are relatively few examples of successful, and sustainable, commercialisation of terrestrial resources. In the Western Cape for example, selected fynbos plant species are harvested for commercial purposes.

Harvesting is done according to international certification standards based on currently known sustainable levels and monitored by the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board (WCNCB). The flowers are exported to Europe and the proceeds are used for providing employment opportunities for the local communities in Agulhas Plain.

In other areas, the benefits of commercialisation generally do not filter down to the broader community, who continue to operate at a subsistence level. In contrast to more commercial ventures, subsistence or informal harvesting of terrestrial resources is very widespread, but there are very few examples of resource monitoring to assess sustainability. Where monitoring is occurring, it is localised (e.g. a few forests in a geographical region) and short term.

It is known that biodiversity makes a substantial contribution to the livelihood strategies of rural communities, contributing to housing, fuel, food and medicines. There is an enormous value associated with this use, which is not considered in economic calculations and is often not factored into decisions about land use. Using the cost of electricity as a standard and knowing the average volume of timber required by a household for fuel, the gross direct-use value of fuelwood is estimated to be R3 billion per year. In some provinces, such as Eastern Cape and Limpopo, the estimated value of wood for domestic purposes is equivalent to 30 – 60% of the provincial gross geographic product for agriculture.

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National spatial biodiversity assessment (NSBA)

The National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment is being carried out at a national scale (1:250 000) and focuses on the terrestrial, freshwater and marine components of biodiversity. Its overall objective is to assess where our important biodiversity is, how much we should conserve, and whether the current system of protected areas in the country is adequate.

  • Terrestrial assessment

The terrestrial assessment focused on habitats, species of special concern (endemics and threatened species) and ecological processes. The habitat aspect covered biodiversity targets for vegetation types, the conservation status of ecosystems and a gap analysis of ecosystems. The species of special concern aspect identified critical areas for endemics and threatened species. The ecological processes aspect evaluated and examined persistence of biodiversity and ecosystem services and ecological infrastructure.

  • Fresh water assessment

The freshwater assessment is a longer-term project, which is assisting the NBSAP in its early stages. The assessment is conducted by the CSIR, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and the Water Research Commission (WRC). The assessment identified diversity of river systems in the country by identifying “river signatures”. The conservation status of rivers was assessed to determine which are most threatened and a gap analysis to see whether rivers are adequately protected in our national and provincial parks.

  • Marine assessment

The Marine Component is also identifying diversity of marine habitats, assessing conservation status and carrying out a gap analysis. These assessments have shown us that many of the areas important for biodiversity lie outside our protected areas like National Parks, and many of our rivers are threatened. Much more needs to be done to manage land use in catchments, and conserve biodiversity on private and communal land.

Threats to biodiversity

The NBSAP needs to develop strong strategies to deal with serious threats to biodiversity like climate change and invasive alien species.

  • Climate change

Climate change is associated with an increase in average global temperatures, leading to changes in rainfall patterns, and is likely to have significant impacts in some parts of the world, especially in Africa. Indications are that climate change will result in worse floods and droughts reduce agricultural production and worsen diseases like malaria. In South Africa, the predicted impacts on biodiversity are dire! It is possible that we could lose the entire Cape Floral Kingdom (found nowhere else on earth) and most of the mammal species for which the Kruger National Park is famous.

It is against this growing concern that efforts are being made to improve the scientific understanding of what drives the earth-atmosphere system, producing such changes; identify those areas that may be particularly vulnerable to environmental changes; and to improve adaptation and mitigation to enable people and plant and animal communities to better live with climate change.

Efforts should be made to develop stronger participation in the National Committee on Climate Change and to work with the South African Climate Action Network to lobby for measures to ensure the reduction of carbon emissions and to pressurise all relevant bodies to

  • Invasive alien species

The uncontrolled spread of invasive alien species is one of the key threats to indigenous biodiversity in our country. This spread has negative impacts on the economy, in sectors as diverse as health, agriculture, water supply and tourism and is likely to become much worse with climate change. The stocktaking report on IAS forms the basis of priority setting and strategy development around IAS management in South Africa, and will be integrated into the overall National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

The IAS strategy is set around four key issues that were identified as the main problems needing to be addressed in order to effectively deal with IAS in South Africa. These four key issues are: ensuring an enabling environment, ensuring adequate capacity, ensuring best prevention practices, and ensuring best management practices.

The stocktaking report deals with aspects such as stakeholders, existing projects, programmes and sources of information, the current status of knowledge and research on invasive species in South Africa, current institutional arrangements, capacity needs and information management systems, extent of the threat posed by IAS, and gaps and constraints to effectively addressing IAS including institutional, financial, information, and capacity constraints.

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Social aspects of conservation

An assessment of the social aspects of conservation focused mainly on conservation and development; sustainable livelihoods; land reform; training, awareness and capacity building. It also focused on cultural issues; stakeholder participation and conflict resolution. The results of the assessment highlights the long traditions and cultural links between the peoples of South Africa and biodiversity, but notes that many people have become alienated from nature, through apartheid policies and processes like urbanisation.

Although past conservation practices moved people off their land, there have been many improvements. In some areas, land has been returned to its rightful owners, who have continued to use the land for conservation and tourism. Much more needs to be done to make conservation more inclusive and relevant to people’s lives.

To ensure sustainable livelihoods, it is important that economic opportunities are expanded in local areas, in a way that takes both people and biodiversity into account. Nature-based tourism should encourage local economic development. There is a huge need to expand the skills of local communities, and encourage entrepreneurs in the tourism industry, the game farming industry, and commercialisation enterprises, through support for training, access to finance and marketing.

Sometimes conflicts can arise between developers and those who depend on the land for their livelihoods. It is essential that policy making and implementation is fully participatory. The process usually followed in South Africa before development decisions are made is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, which includes extensive public participation. In a developing country like South Africa it is important that all interested and affected parties (I&APs) have sufficient capacity and time to participate fully in the process.

Other areas where there is a need for information sharing, capacity building and participatory decision-making are bio-prospecting and privatisation of biological resources, ethical hunting and ensuring that the trade in traditional medicines is sustainable. It is particularly important that the land reform process is speeded up.

Conflicts over land use have been around for most of human existence. The strategy needs to take into account the need for specialised conflict resolution teams and institutions to ensure more professional management of situations which involve major disagreements over appropriate use of natural resources.

There is also a suggestion that it is time that the biodiversity conservation sector, as with the mining and financial services sectors, formulates a Biodiversity Charter, to be endorsed by cabinet, and whose formulation should be the result of broad public debate over a reasonable period of time.

Macro-economic integration and poverty alleviation

Poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation are themes of the government agenda that should be seen as integrated solutions, rather than working against each other. A problem is that the usual indicator of economic growth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does not factor biodiversity into the equation. South Africa is experiencing economic growth, but without an increase in jobs, with worsening poverty, and declining biodiversity.

The stocktaking report quantified and evaluated the current direct expenditure on biodiversity conservation and the source of such funds and evaluated the existing suite of subsidies, incentives and perverse incentives impacting on biodiversity conservation.

It notes that expenditure on sectors that impact on biodiversity is orders of magnitude higher that expenditure on sectors that conserve biodiversity. It is essential that the economic value of biodiversity and biological resources be evaluated and taken into account in development decisions. A mechanism suggested is that an Environmental Investment sector be established. This would quantify the value of the “ecological infrastructure” and benefits provided by biodiversity, and reward those who look after the environment, while capturing the costs of degradation.

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Policy, legislation and institutional capacity

A strategic assessment of the policy, legislative and institutional environment for conserving biodiversity and ensuring its sustainable use indicated that although a comprehensive policy and legal framework is in place in South Africa, there are many gaps in relation to actual implementation.

Hurdles faced by institutions tasked with implementation include funding shortages, high staff turnover and skills gaps, especially in planning, project management, financial management, computer skills and technical skills such as biosystematics. Local government needs considerable assistance, although some metropolitan councils, such as the City of Cape Town, have developed their own biodiversity strategies.

It is especially important that Provincial Growth and Development Strategies and Plans and Integrated Development Plans include biodiversity considerations in planning. Biodiversity must be integrated fully into planning processes.

There are also concerns about the extent to which the principle of cooperative governance is applied. Although mechanisms exist at national level, such as the Committee for Environmental Coordination, they could be more effective. Structures to ensure cooperation and integration at provincial level are almost completely lacking. The Environmental Implementation and Management Plans required under the National Environmental Management Act need to provide a broader understanding of the roles, responsibilities, process, structures and mechanisms to facilitate co-operative governance and should be required to identify weaknesses, establish clear actions for addressing them, and measurable indicators for monitoring success.

Support for local government could be an important area to focus on for improved co-operation. The provinces are at different stages of phasing out old laws and ensuring that provincial legislation is in line with national legislation. This process needs to be speeded up to eliminate confusion and ensure consistency.

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Access and benefits sharing

Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) in the Convention on Biodiversity refers to a “pact” between developed countries (which want to use resources for commercial purposes, like pharmaceuticals) and developing countries (which supply the resources and need to be included in agreements to share benefits). It refers to genetic diversity. The ABS report reviewed existing national legal instruments that deal with ABS issues, identified relevant institutions and experts and evaluated their capacity to work on ABS issues.

Bio-prospecting, the search for new compounds and drugs from natural sources has had some success in South Africa, with isolation of a new antibiotic, the discovery of an anti-obesity agent and a mosquito repellent extracted South African plant species. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is leading much of the research in the field, while the Medical Research Council and several universities are also important role players. However, concerns were raised that in the past, local communities who are the holders of knowledge about our medicinal plants and their uses, were not included adequately in the benefit sharing arrangements.

The stocktaking report recommends that a ‘secretariat’ within the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism be urgently established to assist with the processing and screening of bio-prospecting applications, coordination among the provinces, and the establishment of a shared ABS permitting database. There must be clarity and guidance for applicants, permit issuing authorities, and other affected government departments.

We need to build ABS capacity and raise awareness about ABS issues at a variety of levels: from assisting government with analysing agreements, developing negotiating and legal drafting skills, and permit database management, through to improving awareness amongst the research community about the importance of prior informed consent.

Rural communities and holders of traditional knowledge are often key stakeholders in ABS agreements and initiatives, and there are major capacity challenges at this level – to ensure that efforts are relevant to needs on the ground, that legal and strategic assistance is available when required, and that expectations are not unduly raised. Strong interventions are needed to ensure that bio-prospecting makes contributions towards conservation management and urgent attention must be given to the speedy development of legislation to protect holders of traditional knowledge and to recognise farmers’ rights.

A comprehensive review of South Africa’s intellectual property laws is recommended, combined with a public policy process, to explore the interface between Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the CBD, to ensure consideration of ABS and traditional knowledge issues, and to review South Africa’s policy approach with respect to the patenting of life.

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