THE 2nd MABALA YA RONA BIODIVERSITY CONFERENCE

Changing lives, securing futures

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The Bokone Bophirima fifth administration continues to achieve huge progress in its quest for unity, social cohesion, economic growth, job creation, food security and the creation of transformed inclusive communities with vast socio-economic and investment opportunities.

In unpacking the ongoing efforts to rebrand, reposition and renew (RRR) the province, Premier Supra Obakeng Ramoeletsi Mahumapelo stated that accelerated growth of the wildlife and biodiversity sectors was central to meaningful economic transformation as to change the living conditions of the majority of the people for the better.

“Such accelerated growth was a powerful tool to deal decisively with the triple onslaught of poverty, unemployment and inequality,” Premier Mahumapelo said during the 2nd Mebala Ya Rona three-day Biodiversity Conference held on 26 to 28 October 2017, at Bakgatla Game Resort, Pilanesberg National Park in Moses Kotane Local Municipality of the Bojanala Platinum District.

With the theme, ‘Business of Nature’ the conference came up with future-centric solutions to the various challenges faced by the wildlife and biodiversity sectors in the country, whilst ensuring sustainable livelihoods.

The conference hosted by the MEC for Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ), Manketsi Tlhape brought together a multi-generational audience of over 300 people comprising of experts, entrepreneurs, traditional leaders, government officials, innovators, academia, youth, policymakers, industry leaders and a host of stakeholders from the biodiversity ecosystem.

It was also attended by the Chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Kgosi Mabe, Kgosi Pilane of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela as well as the MEC for Public Works and Roads, Mmule Johanna Maluleke.

In his address, Premier Mahumapelo listed agriculture, culture and tourism as key priorities in the broader mandate of the fifth administration for the growth and development of the economies of even the smallest and remote communities, as envisaged by the National Development Plan (NDP).

The other priorities in the Five-Pillar Strategy encompass villages, townships and small dorpies (VTSD); reconciliation, healing and renewal (RHR); Setsokotsane (a comprehensive and integrated service delivery campaign) and Saamwerk-Saamtrek (a call for unity of purpose above race divisions).

“Our country is endowed with great biodiversity wealth and we are the third most biologically diverse country in the world. This is not only economically viable to the economic wellbeing of our country, but is also a powerful tool for poverty alleviation, social upliftment and economic growth.

“The benefits include eco-tourism, co-managed conservation areas and ancillary services to protected areas, and we should continue to work together and come up with concrete interventions to ensure that our biodiversity can be sustainably utilised for the benefit of the majority of our people,” he said.

Premier Mahumapelo emphasised the need for community participation and collaboration in the biodiversity development, and urged them not to be dampened by the voices of those who throw a spanner in the works.

“We have sown the seed on Mebala Ya Rona and envisage redressing the skewed beneficiation from the Wildlife Economy revenues by creating the necessary changes through the transformation of the biodiversity economy sector, which includes game ranching, hunting and associated industries; bio-trade and bioprospecting activities.

“Working together, we will maintain momentum in dealing with the challenges of insufficient funding and capacity for the implementation of skills development, technology transfer and income generating initiatives.

We fully support the efforts of READ to ensure equitable access to equipment, skills transfer and advancements in the biotechnology aspect of bioprospecting and the entire value chain,” said Premier Mahumapelo.

The Premier expressed gratitude to the Traditional Authorities for their support and for allocating land towards projects of biodiversity preservation and in his response and speaking on behalf of traditional authorities, Kgosi Mabe, said accelerating growth in the wildlife and biodiversity sector would help alleviate poverty and bring sustainable employment opportunities to the communities. MEC Manketsi Tlhape made a clarion call for the government, civil society, donors and all stakeholders to join hands in protecting mother earth—humanity’s shared heritage. She described Mebala Ya Rona as an important platform to explore innovative solutions, mobilise intellectual and capital resources and chart an integrated and collaborative course towards accelerated growth in the wildlife and biodiversity eco-system. She also described it as a platform to celebrate multi-stakeholder achievements in overcoming the challenges of the wildlife economy within the Bokone Bophirima Province whilst ensuring the sustainable utilisation of indigenous resources including biodiversity-derived products for trade and bio-prospecting, the hunting industry, agriculture and agro-processing. “Biodiversity has been globally identified as a cornerstone for economic growth and sustainable development. South Africa is one of the mega-biologically diverse countries and as such, this poses a challenge to us to establish mechanisms in which this biodiversity can be used to contribute towards the betterment of people’s lives,” MEC Tlhape said.

More about Mebala Ya Rona

Mebala Ya Rona is a platform developed by READ to facilitate growth in the Bokone Bophirima wildlife, biotrade and eco-tourism economies, whilst fostering the crucial transformational agenda, building and encouraging investor confidence in stakeholder products.

Objectives:

  • To create a platform for communication, information sharing and interaction for various stakeholders in promoting growth in the wildlife economy;
  • To grow the biotrade and eco-tourism sectors within Bokone Bophirima;
  • To promote the showcasing of international best practice and trends in the industry;
  • To establish and maintain a sustainable funding model towards the identification of key projects for immediate implementation towards sector transformation;
  • To identify current challenges within the sector and address them; and
  • To turn such challenges into opportunities whilst creating an enabling environment for the transformation of the biodiversity economy of Bokone Bophirima.
  • Biodiversity is key to SA’s growth and global competence

A multi-generational gathering of biodiversity custodians has noted during the 2nd Annual Mebala Ya Rona Biodiversity Conference that the sector was intrinsically linked to South Africa’s efforts to move radical economic transformation from mere boardroom rhetoric to tangible results for the benefit of the vast majority of citizens.

The conference featured robust discussions on how to bring about new solutions to challenges faced by the wildlife and biodiversity sectors in the country.

In his address, Dr Poncho Mokaila, Head of the Department, emphasised that the people of Bokone Bophirima have embraced the conference as a forward-looking platform for the creation of an indomitable legacy for sustained livelihoods.

“It is absolutely within our imagination that the Mebala Ya Rona brand will be amplified over the years to be greater than any currency in our economy. As READ, we value the collaborative actions and partnerships with our key stakeholders in the wildlife and biodiversity ecosystem. By working together, we will achieve more in terms of promoting conservancy, sustainable use of natural resources and ensuring the meaningful transformation of the sector. And together, we will continue to pursue areas of mutual benefit on how communities utilise lands, water and wildlife in a manner that benefits future generations,” Dr Mokaila said.

Also discussed during the conference were various interventions to ensure the sustainable harvesting of strategic and high-value plant species like Devil’s Claw, Moringa and Cancer Bush. Currently harvested in the Ganyesa area, Devil’s Claw, renowned for its medicinal properties, was identified as the most important, yet highly exploited medicinal plants native to Southern Africa. The plant is dried up and exported to Europe for beneficiation as it is known to, among other things; help ease rheumatoid arthritis, digestive disorders and other ailments.

Delegates called for the processing of the plant at the source in the rural areas into finished products for export as they felt this would go a long way towards economic transformation of these communities.

Dr Michael Bairu from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) expressed that South Africa was endowed with rich plant resources and indigenous knowledge on the use of medicinal plants and further cautioned that as trade in medicinal plants expands, there was a huge risk of extinction as they are collected unsustainably from the wild and are overexploited.

He advocated for modern ways of cultivating medicinal plants like Devil’s Claw as a viable intervention to ensure sustainable supply and as a tool for biodiversity conservation.

Dr Bairu dispelled the notion that the commercial cultivation of medicinal plants compromised quality and asserted that such an approach had value in terms of poverty alleviation, enterprise development and job creation. He said over 860 farmers and students received training in medicinal plants and associated technologies.

Presenting on the Law Reform­­—towards a responsive legislation in enabling and creating a conducive environment for biodiversity economic growth and transformation—Magdel Boshoff noted that human capital and resources were the most important aspects in the biodiversity sector.

Boshoff acknowledged that the current regulatory framework is neither inclusive nor conducive for economic growth but it is with this in mind that as the national government, we should commit to collaborate with other stakeholders to ensure adequate protection while at the same time creating an enabling environment.

Bokone Bophirima government support

Biodiversity entrepreneurs who showcased their products and participated in a business matchmaking session and networking platform at the 2nd Mebala Ya Rona Biodiversity Conference have paid glowing tribute to the Bokone Bophirima fifth administration for supporting the growth of entrepreneurs and local enterprises, whilst accelerating growth in the wildlife economy and biodiversity sector.

Among them is Jeff Nong, the only black winemaker in the Bokone Bophirima region, who paid tribute to the authorities for their dedication to grow local enterprises and transformation. Nong is the founder of Nong Wines, which he started in 2012 by planting grapes and has since had four harvest seasons of Villard Blanc and Colombard grapes, which are high in Brix (sugar levels).

Nong confirmed that he had 16 Oak barrels of distilled brandy in his cellar and was ably assisted by Schoonspruit Distillers.

Kgomotso Oodira of Bosele Papermaking Cooperative from Zeerust, echoed Nong’s sentiments and added that the Bokone Bophirima did not pay lip service to rural development.

She explained that the cooperative was started in 2001 and has since made major strides in contributing towards proper waste management and environmental protection. They use waste material such as elephant dung mainly sourced from Madikwe Game Reserve, waste paper, sisal fibre and grass to make paper bags, paper ornaments and other paper products. The project received technical assistance from Wits University, which provided the starter pack to start production.

“Our cooperative is an example of the Bokone Baphirima administration’s commitment to the economic transformation of rural communities. Through its financial support, we have been able to substantially grow our business,” said Kgomotso.

Consequently, Uhuru Zikalala’s journey into medicinal plant farming started five years ago when her husband bought a farm in Brits and she started planting vegetables after the family relocated from Johannesburg to stay there. Two years later, she won the Top Producer: Smallholder Market Award at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) Female Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. As part of the prize, Zikalala received R500 000 as an infrastructure grant and R125 000 cash.

“Winning this award opened doors for me and it was with the prize money received that made it possible to venture into the medicinal plant sector three years ago,” she adds.

She currently grows 4 000 Moringa trees on her farm, from which she produces dried Moringa leaves, Moringa tea, Moringa soap, Moringa oil (cold-pressed from Moringa seeds), Moringa powder capsules and Moringa seed meal for animal feed. She also sells Moringa seeds to those who would like to plant and grow their own and further advises them on how to successfully grow the tree. In order to source machinery to process the Moringa and produce these products, she received assistance from the Department of Small Business Development.

The Roma Nna Legacy fund is key towards wildlife transformation

Following the successful hosting of the historic Mebala Ya rona Biodiversity Conference launch in October last year, the Department of Rural, Environment and Agricultural Development (READ) is hard at work to implement key conference resolutions. Worth noting is that the conference accentuated funding as key and amongst the many other critical hindrances to growth and transformation of the lucrative biodiversity sector. The “Roma Nna Legacy Foundation” has been adopted to assist with the development of new entrance projects for inclusivity, capacity development and other related matters.

The fund would remain a key platform for the collaborative contribution between both the industry and government towards the noble cause for transformation, and the proceeds are entirely dedicated for use thereafter to assist with activities which include addressing infrastructure challenges; capacity building aspects; further catalytic projects; necessary feasibility studies, business plans; and land availability.

The provincial government has recognised an important role that public-private partnerships in the form of government together with the industry can play to promote biodiversity economy growth in the province and facilitate the crucial transformation.

MEC Manketsi Tlhape has acknowledged that with the current challenges, more needs to be done for the biodiversity sector economy to grow to its full potential. “Amongst others, there is a lack of measures and/or tools for the effective transformation of biological capital into goods and services for social and economic development. These shortcomings in some ways, contribute to the current levels of poverty in the province, and in the country at large,” she said.

The Mebala Ya Rona Biodiversity Transformation Advisory Committee has been inaugurated to support and advise on the implementation of the biodiversity transformation initiatives in the province including the management of the Roma Nna Legacy Foundation.

The Mebala Ya Rona Advisory Committee is made up of following individuals:

  • Dr Obakeng Mfikwe Chairperson
  • Mr Mike Englezakis Deputy Chairperson
  • Dr Hector Magome Member
  • Mr Stephan Naude Member
  • Mr Ike Makwela Member
  • Mr Pieter Ernst Member
  • Mr Andrew Aphane Member
  • Ms Tharia Unwin Member
  • Mr Norman Adami Ad-hoc Member (Advisory)

Conference outcomes

Within two years, the legislative framework must be reviewed to enable permit exemptions and integration of applications and provision of an integrated approach.

READ supported by Mebala Ya Rona must investigate beneficiation on medicinal plants through social enterprise with the application of commercial strategies for sustainable rural livelihood, value-chain management, funding model and policy issues by October 2018.

Strong supply chain management systems must be created for indigenous medicinal resources through market linkages to ensure consistent market volumes.

READ must develop a model for selection and empowerment of farmers in agriculture through incubation inclusive of training and capacity building, centralisation of farming processes to create hubs and economies of scales and market identification.
Partnership prospects must be investigated to raise investment funding for the Mebala Ya Rona Biodiversity Programme and Projects. Proposals must be profiled to meet the investor requirements.

An enabling environment must be created through collaboration with CHASA for mentorship support through identification of communities and land for field assessment, development of strategy and deliverables with timelines and sourcing out of early customers and markets.

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