I celebrated International Biodiversity Day in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park this year. It was indeed a fitting venue for these celebrations, not only because iSimangaliso is a World Heritage Site blessed with a significant diversity of species, five major eco-systems, four RAMSAR sites which comprise wetlands of international importance, but also because iSimangaliso exemplifies development-led conservation.
Biodiversity is the basis for human development; this is particularly true for the rural poor who are most vulnerable to loss of biodiversity. Many of our communities are directly dependent on biodiversity and ecosystems for among other, medicines, fresh water, land for cultivation and grazing, and building materials. Biodiversity can also, however, create responsible and sustainable forms of growth.
In iSimangaliso this is being done through a pioneering and innovative developmental conservation approach. This includes the use of labour intensive land rehabilitation methods and labour intensive construction methods when redeveloping facilities and infrastructure in the Park, the requirement for local communities to be included as equity owners in tourism accommodation and activity projects, as well as, training in construction, arts, crafts, tourism, leadership and entrepreneurship, and last but not least, access to university education.
This has translated into 1 550 alien-clearing and rehabilitation contracts going to 157 community-based contractors, some 3 500 temporary jobs year-on-year, support to 85 entrepreneurs, 50 artists, and 320 crafters, as well as tour guides and chefs and bursaries for 45 university students.
The message is simple: our vast wealth of biodiversity offers us a suite of natural solutions in the face of unemployment, rising poverty and climate change. This message is relevant for all from rural to urban, rich and poor. We need to step up our efforts to protect our biodiversity, to allow it to support all South Africans – present and future generations included.
Mrs B E E Molewa, MP
Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
31 July 2012