Commercial viability of conservation and social forestry outreach nurseries in South Africa

J. Botha, E. T. F. Witkowski, J. Cock
2007 Agroforestry Systems  
Over 75 nurseries have been implemented by South African state and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in conjunction with local stakeholders over the past two decades in attempts to achieve a range of natural resource management (NRM) and social responsibility objectives. Despite occasional successes, numerous projects have failed or struggled to achieve their objectives for prolonged periods. This study aims to identify critical factors influencing the viability of outreach nurseries in
more » ... h Africa through an evaluation of existing and past projects, and to assess the impact of the projects on the lives of community participants. The central questions of the study are: (i) What factors influence the survival of outreach nurseries? (ii) How did these projects affect the different stakeholders, in particular, community participants? (iii) Are outreach nurseries the best means of achieving conservation and socioeconomic goals? (iv) If so, how can project implementation be improved? Outreach nurseries are defined as decentralised nurseries that are established and managed by one or more community participants with varying degrees of support from implementing organisations. The nurseries included in this study are limited to those with NRM objectives. The key issues affecting the development of outreach projects are reviewed, starting with a brief overview of the evolution of people-centred approaches to NRM. Disentangling the complex interrelated political, socioeconomic and environmental factors influencing the development of even smallscale projects such as outreach nurseries is challenging at both research and implementation levels. A model adapted from Choucri (1999) is presented to facilitate the assessment of projects and the assumptions on which they are based by deconstructing the key dimensions of sustainability: ecology, economic activity, political behaviour, governance and institutional performance. An evaluation of 65 South African outreach nurseries was initially conducted. Biophysical problems such as a lack of water, inadequate infrastructure, poor soils, insufficient space and steep slopes were commonly experienced. Unlike small-scale nurseries in India and other parts of Africa, which are often implemented to meet subsistence needs, South African projects frequently include financial objectives to enable the enterprise to become independent of external funding and generate incomes for community participants. Protracted business difficulties were experienced by 68% of the nurseries. Apart from struggling to develop steady markets, nurseries were often located far from markets and were hampered by inadequate transport, pricing difficulties and limited marketing communications. They were also situated in low-income areas where residents have limited spending power. Few thorough viability studies had been carried out and business management skills were restricted, both amongst community participants and practitioners. Ten outreach nurseries with differing profiles and conservation objectives were then assessed in depth. The achievement of financial and NRM objectives was largely sector dependent. These objectives were usually compatible in greening and conservation rehabilitation programmes, facilitating their attainment. Six nurseries aimed to implement greening activities either through their own efforts at local level or by supplying trees to implementing organisations responsible for regional or national greening iv programmes. Local level greening initiatives included the planting of trees and ornamentals into school grounds and/or and the surrounding community, the establishment and maintenance of a park, the conservation of remnant patches of indigenous vegetation and encouraging local residents to plant indigenous species. At national level, urban municipalities involved in greening initiatives report an 80% survival rates of transplanted seedlings but high mortalities are frequently experienced in rural areas, mainly due to lack of aftercare and seedlings being eaten by livestock. However, the rate of transplanting of distributed seedlings is frequently unknown. A monitoring plan needs to be designed and implemented in conjunction with recipient organisations, to ascertain whether resources are being effectively used and identify shortcomings. Two nurseries supplied seedlings to gold mining rehabilitation programmes. In total, 580 000 seedlings were transplanted onto 437 ha. of gold mining tailings dams and polluted land between 2002 and 2004. One nursery sold just under 35 000 seedlings to this sector in 2005/6. Initial restoration results have been encouraging, with vegetation on some gold tailings dams establishing so well that a new challenge has arisen: viz. encouraging the neighbouring community to harvest at sustainable levels. A nursery established to supply seedlings to alien plant and wetland rehabilitation programmes closed, but this sector has a similar potential to the gold mining rehabilitation programmes to contribute to biodiversity conservation and enhance ecosystem services whilst contributing to local livelihoods. Both require high volumes of inexpensive, fast growing and resilient seedlings. An endangered species nursery had not yet achieved anticipated conservation returns eight years after its inception, mainly due to an extremely difficult sociopolitical local terrain. Incidents of illegal harvesting of a wild population growing near the project site had declined, but conservation officials were concerned that a general increase in the illegal wildlife trade in South Africa would further pressurize this and other species, for example, those valued for their medicinal properties. Medicinal plant nurseries struggled to simultaneously achieve conservation and socioeconomic objectives. Despite concerted efforts for 6-10 years, none achieved their primary goal at even the scale of the participating group viz. to reduce harvesting levels of wild plant populations. Community participants from two nurseries cultivated medicinal plants at the project site and in their home gardens. Approximately 235 medicinal species were cultivated by 31 participants from one nursery (6-64 species per garden; mean+SE=36.5+2.9), but most people continued to use the same volumes of wild collected material as they had prior to the start of the project. However, six years after the last consistent inputs to the project, several influential traditional healers reported that they still cultivated sufficient volumes to meet their needs, no longer harvested from the wild and seldom purchased plant products from markets. Although this is a promising start, efforts need to be considerably scaled up if regional harvesting levels are to be substantially reduced. Harvesting levels in the other project increased due to beneficiating activities, although practitioners urged the group to harvest leaves rather v than bark. A third nursery attained financial viability by marketing its products to the horticultural sector. Traditional healers could not afford the prices asked for plants.
doi:10.1007/s10457-007-9042-0 fatcat:wyu6ogv57vgyplefssjttdd46e