After 10 years of hard work by the KwaZulu-Natal-based Wildlands (a programme of the WildTrust) and the WWF Nedbank Green Trust, the community-owned Somkhanda Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal is teeming with game and is one of the first successful community-owned and managed Big Five conservation ventures in South Africa.
This is a flagship, long-term project that has required years of support and training to become successful as a Big Five game reserve that is both owned and managed by the community. There are several game reserves in the region owned by communities, but these are hired out to the private sector and this is what makes Somkhanda such a unique success story.
From the beginning Somkhanda was funded by the WWF Nedbank Green Trust and co-managed by Wildlands and the Emvokweni Community Trust (ECT), which represents the Gumbi community. The Wildlands team worked with the Gumbi community for the past 10 years to create the 12 000-hectare Somkhanda out of their 26 000-hectare successful land claim. The project’s goal was to create a full game offering, upgrade the tourism facilities and train community members to manage all aspects of the reserve and it has achieved this success.
The Gumbi community of approximately 20 000 people receives 10% of all tourism money from the reserve, which the ECT allocates for schools, creches, clinics, cattle dipping programmes and small-business opportunities. The reserve currently employs 52 people from the community, and all short-term contracts, such as for alien bush clearing, are taken up by the community. The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries funds the salaries of the game guards through its Environmental Monitors Programme.
The reserve’s manager is Nkosinathi Gumbi who started two years ago after being trained at the Southern African Wildlife College near Kruger National Park, another WWF Nedbank Green Trust funded initiative. To advance his management skills and experience, Nkosinathi currently works alongside Wildlands manager, Meiring Prinsloo.
Community member Nathi Gumbi, who has championed Somkhanda from the outset, is the Strategic Manager for the Gumbi and neighbouring community. He manages all the projects and governance issues outside of the reserve. Nathi explains that to supplement the community income from the reserve in this poverty- stricken area, they are establishing a network of mainly women farmers and micro enterprises. The farmers are growing crops like cassava and sorghum and vegetables, including indigenous vegetable like the madumbi (indigenous potato). The focus is on climate smart agriculture that uses less water and no pesticides. The micro enterprises include craft businesses, home stays, chicken farms and spaza shops which collectively create a micro-economy to keep the money in the area so that step by step it can develop and become more prosperous.
For more information about Somkhanda Game Reserve visit http://wildtrust.co.za/somkhanda/