Celebrating 33 years of conservation and foresight

Photo Credit: WWF

Three decades ago, Nedbank and WWF foresaw a looming environmental and natural resource crisis, many years before sustainability became a global priority.

‘Back then, the necessity of putting corporate clout and capital behind sustainable development in South Africa was already absolutely clear,’ says Mike Brown, Chief Executive of the Nedbank Group. ‘This led to the partnership between the conservation organisation WWF-SA and Nedbank, and the creation of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust in 1990.’

Funded through Nedbank’s Green Affinity Programme, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has contributed more than R300 million towards over 200 community-based conservation projects throughout South Africa. The focus areas include freshwater and food security, biodiversity, landscape and marine conservation, plastics pollution control, renewable energy and climate change.

‘A flagship project for the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has been the formal protection of South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs),’ says Tobie Badenhorst, Head of Group Sponsorships and Cause Marketing at Nedbank. ‘SWSAs cover less than 10% of South Africa’s land surface but provide more than 50% of the entire country’s water.’

‘A major success at the policy level for the WWF Nedbank Green Trust is the achievement of having South Africa’s SWSAs written into legislation,’ adds Augustine Morkel, Operations Lead at WWF-SA. ‘Several WWF Nedbank Green Trust projects are situated in the SWSAs, contributing to the security and improvement of these critical water sources, and the livelihoods of the people who live here and in the urban areas below them.’

One of the projects is in the rural Eastern Cape region of Matatiele. The project focuses on catchment restoration at the source of one of South Africa’s largest river systems by healing the grasslands through improved communal cattle grazing methods. Healthy grasslands play a central role in water storage and erosion control.

Another first is the WWF Nedbank Green Trust’s partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute in the development of South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). To expand both the marine and terrestrial conservation network, and at the same time accommodate people’s livelihoods, projects focusing on other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) have recently been introduced.

‘The reason why the WWF Nedbank Green Trust is so critical is that it plays an amazing role in linking stakeholders from very different sectors,’ says Nomonde Mxhalisa, Marketing and Communications Manager: WWF Nedbank Green Trust. ‘It stitches together the corporate and private sector, government, NGOs and regular SA citizens living in some of the most rural and often forgotten places, as well as people living in urban centres for the advancement and development of our country. It ensures that sustainability is not just a word, but a vision that is implemented, lived and celebrated.’

A snapshot of projects the WWF Nedbank Green Trust supports follows:

Food for South Africa

Every year 10 million tons of food goes to waste and end up in landfills in South Africa. A huge percentage of this is good, edible, healthy food.

FoodForward SA (FFSA) is the largest food redistribution, non-profit organisation in South Africa. Established in 2009, it recovers edible surplus food from farmers, manufacturers and retailers, and distributes the food through 2 750 registered non-profit and beneficiary organisations to feed 950 000 vulnerable people throughout South Africa every day. Its FoodBanking model is highly cost-effective at only 68c for one meal.

Many other suppliers would like to donate perishable or non-perishable foods but they need government to put a food donations policy in place because of liability concerns. FFSA is advocating for this.

If there was a food donations policy in place, FFSA is confident that it could recover five million tons of food per year, and provide every single hungry person in our country with two meals every day. They have all the infrastructure and logistics in place to scale up, including a fleet of refrigerated trucks to collect surplus food and take it to vulnerable communities across the country.

Protecting our precious honeybees

The decline of honeybee populations is a direct threat to food and job security in South Africa’s extensive agricultural crop industry. Over 50 agricultural crops, worth over R10,3 billion a year to the South African economy, are pollinated by honeybees. This project is aimed at conserving the Cape honeybee, starting in the fruit-growing areas of Grabouw and the Langkloof in the Western Cape.

Pollination is mostly done by paying for managed honeybee hives that are transported to the farms during the short pollination season. The project creates greater understanding of the pollination needs of South Africa’s fruit industry. It is also collaborating with local farmers, beekeepers and newly established indigenous plant nurseries to help increase biodiversity and the indigenous forage of the Cape honeybee. The project raises awareness of the value of the honeybee pollination ecosystem services for agriculture, and the project also manages to show how important honeybees are for food and job security.

Rural women doing good for rural communities

Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS) is a non-profit social enterprise founded two decades ago by two rural women, soil scientist Sissie Matela and environmental scientist Nicky McLeod. ERS focuses on sustainable rural livelihoods and water and landscape conservation in the Eastern Cape village of Matatiele and has been featured on BBC StoryWorks and received WWF’s Living Planet Award in 2019.

Matatiele is situated in the catchment of the upper uMzimvubu river. This is the third-largest river system in southern Africa and one of South Africa’s Strategic Water Source Areas (SWSAs). It drains over two million hectares, supplying water for hundreds of kilometres as far as Johannesburg.

The Matatiele region is ideal cattle country, with rich grasslands and wetlands. Healthy grasslands, soils and wetlands are integral to water management; they slow down the water flow from the top of the catchment that recharges the rivers and streams, and they form a landscape ‘sponge system’ whereby the water is slowly released throughout the year.

Well-managed grazing keeps the grasslands and wetlands healthy, and the soil mantle intact. Unmanaged grazing leads to grassland degradation and severe soil erosion.

The ERS team works in partnership with the communal farmers in six chieftainships spanning 55 rural villages to reintroduce some of the traditional methods of rotational grazing and rest, in combination with high-density, fast-rotation grazing to improve the health of the grasslands.

As part of the communal grazing project, ERS works with a mobile cattle auction company called Meat Naturally Africa (Pty) Ltd. The company brings a mobile auction to the community where community members can sell their cattle at competitive prices. Community cattle sales can fetch between R1 million and R2 million per auction.

Support for this project additionally includes:

  • the construction of 18 spring capture systems to offer fresh, clean, quality water to 600 households in 12 villages;
  • the development of smallholder vegetable farms; and
  • a pilot microenterprise that removes alien invasive wattle trees from the riverbanks as they consume vast amounts of water, and then use the wattle to make eco-friendly charcoal called Eco Char.

In addition to the WWF Nedbank Green Trust ERS’s projects are supported by partners such as Avocado Vision, Lima Rural Development Foundation, Conservation SA, and Meat Naturally Africa.

Port St John fishers partnering in new conservation model

Many fishery resources in South Africa are overexploited or collapsed. It is critical that we actively protect our oceans, which include 150 marine ecosystems, and implement systems for sustainable fisheries. Part of the solution is MPAs.

South Africa has 42 marine protected areas covering 5,4% of our exclusive economic zone. MPAs support fisheries sustainability by providing safe spaces in which fish can breed undisturbed, and young fish can mature into adulthood.

To expand the marine conservation network and, at the same time, accommodate the marine livelihoods as well as cultural and spiritual practices of coastal communities, a system of OECMs has been introduced. It is recognised internationally as a category of MPA.

South Africa’s first OECM is in the small-scale fishing area of Port St Johns on the Wild Coast. Six co- operations have been established here, each with 40 to 50 fishers, amounting to a total of about 300 fishers who have the right to fish commercially and for their own needs in this OECM area. Each member, however, must have at least 10 years’ experience as a fisher. Younger members can also work for the co-operations but they cannot be members until they have gained 10 years of experience because this is how they manage to build succession into the system.

The aim is to expand the OECM model to other coastal areas in partnership with other conservation organisations like WILDOCEAN in KwaZulu-Natal.

Working with smallholder farmers in 40 villages

Mahlatini Development Foundation is an NGO that focuses on advancing small-scale farming in deep rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. The NGO was started in 2003 by Erna Kruger who has a master’s degree in plant virology.

Kruger and her team are working with 20 villages in the Midlands and southern KwaZulu-Natal areas, and another 12 villages around the town of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. The project includes 20 to 30 smallholder farmers per village. Mahlatini Development Foundation helps smallholder farmers improve their farming practices for dryland cropping, homestead vegetable production and livestock for domestic use and selling.

Many of the farmers are between 45 and 60 years old, and 70% to 80% are women, as women are the main caretakers responsible for putting food on the table. The farms range from 0,25 to 1,5ha in size, and farmers do all the planting, weeding and harvesting themselves.

Mahlatini promotes an agroecological approach, using composting, mulching, natural pest control and improving the soil’s water-holding capacity. Maize is intercropped with beans, cowpeas and pumpkins and other fodder crops like sunflower, sunn hemp, sorghum and millet.

In household gardens the farmers plant vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, kale, spinach, spring onions and tomatoes. Livestock production is focused on chickens.

Another part of the project explores local marketing options and working on a system of selling at local markets in nearby villages and towns once a month.

Goal for a global treaty on plastic pollution

South Africa’s plastic pollution problem includes tyres, clothing, e-waste, packaging and disposable nappies. Much of it either goes to landfills and open dumps or leaks into our rivers and oceans. Our country is responsible for an estimated 107 000 tons of plastic in our oceans each year.

Eighty percent of the environmental impacts of plastic packaging can be addressed at the design stage. The WWF Circular Plastics Economy Programme has projects in the business, policy and environmental space.

At a national policy level, South Africa needs to implement measures that extend responsibility for plastic pollution all the way up the value chain, from the plastic resin producers and converters to brand owners and retailers, consumers, waste management organisations and government. Plastic products (especially packaging) must be reused and recycled as raw materials in other products. By adopting more re-useable models and using increasing amounts of recycled plastic in products, the WWF Circular Plastics Economy Programme reduce their dependence on virgin plastic and create a circular flow in the economy where plastic does not become waste that leaks into the environment.

In 2021 a key piece of legislation that was gazetted in South Africa is that all plastic bags (including those imported) must contain at least 50% post-consumer recycled plastic from the beginning of 2022. From January 2027 plastic bags will need to contain 100% post-consumer recycled plastic.

At the business level, the South African Plastics Pact, launched on 30 January 2020, is making good headway with industry and government.