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Grasslands community stewardship
© Scott Ramsay/ WWF-SA

Land reform presents an opportunity to upskill and empower individuals, traditional authorities and communities who become custodians of water and biodiversity-rich landscapes, especially in the Grasslands. If this conservation-worthy land is not managed properly it could potentially face degradation, loss of species and natural services.

What is the issue?

Grasslands are central to many water source areas that supply our rivers, dams and cities with water. They are also home to globally-threatened animal and plant species. Many rural communities also rely directly on the land for their livelihoods.
In a country with many social inequalities, challenges with regard to daily food and water access can shift the focus away from conservation onto basic survival needs. This is often the case for communities living in remote parts of the Grasslands across Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and Eastern Cape.
Despite these challenges, many of these deep marginalised rural communities are eager to embed environmental best practice to enable sustainable livelihoods. With regard to livestock farming, well managed and healthy grasslands translate to well-fed healthy cattle.

What are we doing?

WWF works with willing rural land reform communities who live in biodiversity-rich parts of the Grasslands to support them in being responsible custodians of these life-giving landscapes. 

How do we do this?

Collective understanding, negotiation and representative agreements are required before any commitments to conservation are considered. To conserve essential Grassland ecosystems WWF works with private and communal landowners to create voluntary contractual agreements that define the level of conservation commitment. WWF also helps them to develop environmental management plans, annual plans of operation and have recently been providing trainings in rangeland management.
By co-ordinating additional training programmes with these communities, WWF promotes a shift from subsistence farming. This helps to protect both land and livelihoods by finding ways to improve the management and productivity of the land whilst sustaining the unique biodiversity found in the Grasslands. 

Who do we work with?

WWF focuses on 13 land reform communities in the Grasslands and works closely with traditional leaders, community representatives, government departments and provincial conservation agencies. 

How did it start?

Through the Enkangala Grasslands project in partnership with the Botanical Society of South Africa, WWF initially piloted biodiversity stewardship agreements with communal land reform communities in 2007, eventually resulting in the signing of an agreement in 2009.
Since then, WWF has taken these pilot projects to another level and has been able to provide over a decade of meaningful support to the Mabaso Land Reform initiative within the Mgundeni community. Many other rural communities in the Grasslands have been engaged since. 

What are the big wins?
  1. The Mgundeni community was the first in KwaZulu-Natal to sign a biodiversity stewardship agreement on communally owned land in 2009. With WWF’s support, they accessed a grant in 2013 to implement a sustainable cattle farming initiative. This resulted in reduced cattle mortalities during the harsh winter months to zero in 2015 and beyond.

  2. WWF also helped the Mgundeni community to gain access to commercial markets to sell their cattle at better prices and they sell over 100 cows annually in auctions excluding stock that is sold individually and those that perform rituals and lobola.

  3. WWF has also been working with communities of Thekwane, Ndlamlenze, Mkhothane, Babanango in KZN as well as Bambanani and Ukuthanda ukukhanya in Mpumalanga, assisting with rangeland management training and fire training to enhance their farming practices and to benefit their communities.

  4. Through successes like Mgundeni, other community agreements have been catalysed through learning exchanges from five different provinces. Six new sites are in the early stages of engagement in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.  Five new sites have more recently been identified in the Eastern Cape Province to grow the programme in the grasslands biome.