AN UNUSUAL re-forestation and carbon sequestration project is underway in the heart of the old Transkei, where savage erosion is a common feature. The R7600000 project is being run as a partnership between the Congress of Traditional Leaders’ of South Africa (Contralesa), the national department of environmental affairs and a Johannesburg-based company called Carbon Worx.
It comprises the re-forestation of six 2ha sites in six administrative areas in the district of Ngqungqu, where Contralesa president Chief Phatekile Holomisa lives.
Speaking to The Herald last night (June 13 2011), Phatekile said the project was initiated when Contralesa was approached by Carbon Worx and it got properly underway in 2009 with funding by the department.
“The aim is that a total of 70 people will be employed on the project. The work will involve planting indigenous trees to form forests on each of these sites.”
The land used to be ploughed for crops and was most recently used for grazing cattle but it has become degraded, he said.
“The aim is that once the forests have matured then they will help to absorb carbon and therefore help to fight climate change.”
Also, under a controlled programme, the people will be able to harvest for traditional medicine bark and plants that will grow as part of the forest. Under the programme, they will also be able to harvest wood for fuel and building, he said.
“The project was initiated in 2009 and planting has now started on the first site.”
News of the project was revealed by Nokonwaba Matikinca, head of rural development programmes and land use with Contralesa. Matinkinca was speaking last week at a climate change conference in East London.
In her speech at the conference, Matikinca started disarmingly by admitting that there are some who would be surprised that Contralesa could be progressive enough to be consulted on an issue like climate change.
Thanking conference host economic development and environmental affairs department MEC Mcedisi Jonas for the opportunity, she focused first on the related issue of land degradation, which is both causing and being caused by climate change. She described how when she was a girl in the Transkei town of Willowvale, there were always lots of fruit available for free on the trees growing around the town.
"Now we must go to the Spar. Something is wrong."
She said there was a need for a programme to change mindsets to encourage people to appreciate their natural resources and think about issues like transport and how burning fossil fuels results in CO2 emissions which drive climate change, she said.
"We need to speak to people about the richness that is around them. We need to move away from the mindset that, ‘people will look down on me if I travel by public transport’."
Also at the conference,
Harold Dendela, Nafcoc provincial chairman said, "you can't think about environment unless you have money in the bank.
"Government must give incentives to companies that heed the call to go green, and shame those that do not."
Popular TV weatherman and an anchor on the SABC environment programme 50/50 Simon Gear, who co-ordinated debate during part of the conference, said arguably the best and most immediate way to tackle climate change was for local government to “just do its job properly".
Taking care of parks, planting food gardens, helping poor people access solar water geyser technology and making sure sewage does not flow into our rivers will all create resilience against climate change at the same time as helping communities not contribute to it, he said.
He contended that possibly therefore there was in fact no need for the conference or an Eastern Cape Climate Change Response Strategy, the underpinning document presented at the event.
His statements sparked lively debate and it was an example, delegates said afterwards, of the sincerity of the conference and the commitment of Jonas' department to facing up honestly to the climate change conundrum.
One speaker from the floor argued that formulating a strategy is vital as while for example everyone agrees that rural communities need to get electrificity, "the question is do we drag huge transmission lines across pristine areas, as we have been doing, or do we go for local energy generation?
“We need a strategy to ensure that we're all going in the same direction, and aiming for the same outcome.”
Another speaker said that while this kind of strategising makes sense on one level, the problem is that such a drastic reduction in CO2 is needed. The only way to really tackle the problem, therefore, is to change the economic paradigm in SA, which accepts and even promotes energy-hungry development. “We have to move away from a modern economy."
Div de Villiers, the head of the Green Scorpions in the Eastern Cape and a senior manager in Jonas' department said several positive steps had been taken in the Eastern Cape recently related to combating climate change.
He highlighted the withdrawal of the minerals’ exploration license that had been awarded to Australia-owned Transworld on the Wild Coast, following on determined opposition from the Xolobeni community, and said Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu should be hailed for her decision.
The announcement has been swiftly followed by commitment from the UN to sponsor development that will strengthen resilience against climate change, by securing the Wild Coast from sea level rise, and by promoting biodiversity protection.