Design for participation in ecologically sound management of South Africa's Mlazi River catchment

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Auerbach, R. (1999)
  • Publisher: Auerbach

<p>Without local participation, integrated catchment management and Landcare will not become a general reality in South Africa. With support from the South African Water Research Commission, the University of Natal's Farmer Support Group set up the Ntshongweni Catchment Management Programme (NCMP) as a practical participatory action research investigation of ecological farming systems, integrated catchment management and Landcare. Local experience played a crucial role in helping to build credible local networks and to understand the importance of design for a sustainable future. Since small scale agriculture in South Africa faces four major constraints (aridity, poverty, access to land and local leadership) main aspects of design were: ecological farm design for efficient water and nutrient use, community garden design for production with low risk of crop failure and low levels of purchased external inputs, environmental education design and design for communication. Practical work led to the design of a prototype of an ecologically sound community garden.</p><p>To address the risks associated with farming in South Africa's dry and often unpredictable climate, a rainwater harvesting system was set up on Bachs Fen Ecological Research Farm, as part of the ecological farming system. Water from the hill and highway above the farm flows through a wetland system. The wetland slows down the flow and purifies the water, and has a significant water storage function. At present 0.4 ha of vegetables is irrigated using over-exploited groundwater resources. The rainwater harvesting system makes it possible to irrigate one hectare using the water harvested from the wetlands instead of groundwater. At the same time, groundwater recharge is improved through increased rainfall infiltration. Bachs Fen is seven hectares in extent, and is one possible model of a small scale commercial farm which is ecologically sound, economically viable and efficient in terms of water use. The development of farms in the range of five to fifty hectares is vital, if land reform and reconstruction and development are to lead to rural areas which do not exclude most of the rural people who currently live there.</p><p>Technical and economic lessons learned on Bachs Fen were incorporated into a discovery learning programme which has seen eighteen community gardens, five craftgroups and twenty school environmental action clubs started in the Mlazi River catchment area, mainly around the Ntshongweni Dam, where the NCMP started its work in 1994. Over a period of five years, there has been increasing community participation in ecological agriculture and environmental conservation. Activities have included the gardens and the school enviroclubs, establishment of craftwork groups, control of invasive alien plants, planning activities for urban agriculture using stormwater runoff, the establishment of several conservancies including the Hammarsdale Industrial Conservancy, facilitation of cooperation between teachers, industrialists, farmers and developers, and the establishment of Conflict Resolution Committees and Subcatchment Management Committees.</p><p>Environmental education has been an important part of bringing about community participation in integrated catchment management. Adults took part in a range of activities which deepened their insight into local ecosystems and helped to build a catchment identity for the Mlazi River catchment. A physical model of the catchment helped with this process. The Mlazi River Catchment News contributed to building awareness among catchment residents and resource managers about the problems facing the catchment, as well as activities which local people and groups were involved in to address these problems. The river biomonitoring programme has helped to pinpoint several problems in the catchment. As the record of chemical and biological aspects of water quality develops, understanding of seasonal patterns and of the influence of varying landuses will increase. This will help to develop sustainable catchment management strategies which optimise productivity, equity and conservation.</p><p>School Environmental Action Clubs (Enviroclubs) have helped children to learn about their local environment and how it fits into the catchment. Each school has developed a School Environmental Policy, and the Enviroclubs have developed Action Plans based on this policy. Recycling, controlling invasive alien plants, planting indigenous trees, starting school gardens and managing water effectively are the five main areas of Enviroclub activities. Annual competitions encourage students to work at improving the school environment. The Outcomes Based Education policy of the Department of Education is thus implemented in a practical way, as children apply theoretical concepts such as the hydrological cycle, soil fertility and plant nutrition, plant ecology and community health to their school grounds and the surrounding areas. Ecology means "knowledge of the home environment", and the Enviroclubs teach children about plants, river health, resource conservation and socially responsible leadership. Mpumalanga Township is already changing, as children help to develop an environmental ethic.</p><p>The research question for the programme was: "How can diverse communities often characterised by conflict, be helped to come together to learn about natural resources and systems, and to manage them collectively in a way which is productive and responsible?" Conflict management and an integrated approach effectively answered this question by showing that people are prepared to cooperate at local level, once they have begun to communicate. However, transforming conflict management into collective natural resource management requires outside facilitation by a neutral agency with skills in both facilitation of interaction and in natural resource management and ecological agriculture. Careful design of technical and social research processes required an understanding of ecosystems which did not define problems too narrowly. Design emphasised the broad connections between human behaviour and ecosystems function, and between actions at local level and actions at catchment, provincial or national level. Local subcatchment committees proved an effective way to bring people together to manage resources collectively.</p><p>Four design questions were examined in the course of the research programme. These were:</p><OL TYPE="a"><LI>What strategies are available to help improve food security in a way which addresses aridity, poverty and restricted availability of land?<LI>Are there effective methods of producing good yields of crops without resorting to the levels of fertilisers, poisons and other technologies which have produced the environmental problems currently being experienced in Europe?<LI>How can Bachs Fen Ecological Research Farm become more useful as a teaching facility?<LI>Can School Environmental Action Clubs effectively involve school children in caring for their local environment?</OL><p>In addressing these design questions, the participatory action research programme was able to show how an integrated approach involving agriculture, forestry, water conservation, environmental conservation, health and education improves the use of resources and develops local capacity for rational and sustainable resource management. The spirit of the new Water Law (Act 36 of 1998) has been implemented in the development of these subcatchment committees, but the deficiencies of the law in failing to provide adequately for structures at local level which can bring about integrated resource management have been highlighted.</p><p>For the future of South Africa, the lessons learned from this research indicate that integrated approaches at local level should centre around a process of platform building, which enables local people to learn about resource management in an integrated way, while developing a joint vision, and adapting social norms and values towards the practical realisation of their vision. Local leadership is an important part of this process, and where local leaders were not prepared to put the needs of the community before their own personal power and prestige, very little progress occurred. Where accountable leadership was present, however, remarkable progress was possible, and diverse communities were able to find ways of moving forward together, to the mutual benefit of all concerned. The constraints to rural development (poverty, aridity, land and leadership) are themselves an expression of the relationship of people to their environment.</p><p>The contribution of the research programme to the development of an Environmental Management System for the Durban Metropolitan Area, and to the Durban Outer West Local Council's Integrated Development Plan helped both of these processes to take place with greater input from under-represented rural groups. The transformation of environmental management from the previous emphasis on maintaining pleasant environments in affluent suburbs, to the creation of more harmonious and sustainable environments throughout the Durban Metropolitan Area is now underway. Further development of Local Environmental Action Fora will be an important aspect of keeping this process on track, and promoting accountability and transparency. Linking Local Environmental Action Fora to subcatchments also allows for structures which cross community boundaries in an integrative way, where community skills and insights can become more available.</p>
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