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Helping hand for grassland communities

What started as a contribution of water tanks, liquid soap and face masks to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 among a few WWF-supported rural communities in South Africa’s remote grasslands region, has recently been expanded. Now, more water tanks have been delivered and WWF is guiding grasslands communities on potential income generation through sustainable small-scale vegetable farming.

The initial Covid-support initiative, coordinated by WWF and funded by the HSBC Bank plc – Johannesburg branch, took place in October 2020 by supplying four rural communities with 73 rainwater tanks. This was to help with access to water for drinking purposes, as well as regular handwashing for improved hygiene.

The partnership between WWF and HSBC enabled the intervention to be extended in 2021 from four to 14 rural communities. Ahead of the summer rainy season at the end of the year, 56 new water tanks were delivered.
The beneficiary communities also received seeds and seedlings, including beans, cabbage, beetroot, spinach and carrots. Plus, useful gardening tools were provided like wheelbarrows, spades and forks; and other materials such as plant grow bags, water pipes and nets to protect fresh produce from bad weather and pests.

In addition, between 35 and 50 community members attended workshops in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga on topics covering nutrition and value-adding (using one product to make various dishes), how to scale up from subsistence to commercial farming, smallholder funding opportunities and business budgeting. Further, WWF held a competition on nutritious cooking between three communities where the winner was awarded a sheep as a prize. This was done to encourage them to plant, cook and eat healthy nutritive-providing foods to help enhance their immune systems in the face of Covid-19.

Located in remote parts of the high-altitude grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, all the communities to have benefited are part of WWF's land reform and biodiversity stewardship initiative. Many have signed (and some are in the process of signing) voluntary biodiversity stewardship agreements to safeguard the vital wetlands and other natural diversity found on their land.

The original four beneficiary communities – Ukuthanda ukukhanya and Bambanani Communal Property Associations (CPA) in Mpumalanga, and Ndlamlenze and Thekwane in KwaZulu-Natal – received 30 more water tanks between them (to add to the 73) to reduce the number of households sharing a water tank from four to two. Another 26 water tanks were delivered to nine communities. 10 tanks went to Mkothane community in northern KwaZulu-Natal and 16 tanks were distributed between eight smaller communities in the Eastern Cape.

Ayanda Cele, Manager: Land Reform and Biodiversity Stewardship with WWF South Africa, commented: "We witnessed that the wetland at Ukuthanda ukukhanya CPA has drastically improved and is very clean, and many birds have started foraging from it. This is because people have not fetched water from the wetland this summer since they received their water tanks in late 2020."
"We have seen how beneficial this intervention has been to the communities we work with. We will continue to try and secure more funding so they can access other opportunities to help them grow and, in the end, generate more income. We are grateful for the HSBC partnership and the support we received from our government partners as this intervention would not have been possible without them," he added.

The implementation of the intervention was in partnership with the provincial departments of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment; Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs; and Health, as well as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. WWF's sustainable agriculture programme, which works with farmers across all scales of production, has also been very instrumental in the initiative.

WWF’s Ayanda Cele (left) and iNkosi Shabalala (right) standing in front of water storage tanks.

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