A community approach to curbing illegal succulent trade

Photo Credit: Katherine Forsythe

Imagine living in a remote, economically depressed community on the edge of the Namaqua National Park or the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve in the Northern Cape, where the succulents in this region known as the Succulent Karoo are hot property in the illegal international plant trade.

In this arid region, many people are unemployed and rely on grants or do seasonal work. Some of the younger people work on the mines, and older people farm with small numbers of sheep and goats on land restituted through the land reform programme.

When each month is a struggle to make ends meet, it comes as no surprise that the illegal collection and trade of the prized succulent plants here has become a major problem. There is a massive market for the succulents, mainly in Asia and also in Europe, where they are used largely for ornamental purposes. And the trade is escalating, exacerbated by the shortage of environmental officers, monitoring, and law enforcement.

To address this problem at a socio-economic level, a WWF Nedbank Green Trust- supported project in partnership with South African National Parks (SANParks) and CapeNature is looking at interventions and opportunities together with eight of the local communities, to increase employment, boost small, medium and microenterprise (SMME) development and include communities in legally benefitting from the region’s wealth of natural resources.

‘The project, titled Building local community capacity and sustainable livelihoods, is being piloted in the Namaqua National Park (Namaqua) in the Namaqualand region and the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve (Knersvlakte) near Vanrhynsdorp on the West Coast and in their neighbouring communities,’ says community conservation coordinator, Charlene Adams, who is a member of WWF South Africa’s Land Programme Unit.

She explains that WWF South Africa has a long history with Namaqua where 50% of its current footprint was secured through its support. The Land Programme is actively involved in supporting SANParks to expand this park – currently over 150 000 hectares in extent. Knersvlakte is a provincial nature reserve, managed by CapeNature. Here, a trust called the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust (LHSKT) has been instrumental in the formation of this reserve, which is currently over 120 000 hectares in size.

‘The Land Programme team, in partnership with SANParks and CapeNature have held two workshops with community representatives to understand their needs and to engage with them about the proposed approaches to boost their livelihoods,’ Adams says.

The project is working with the following communities neighbouring the two pilot sites: Kamieskroon; Hondeklipbaai, Soebatsfontein and Komaggas in Namaqua, and Nuwerus and Kliprand in Knersvlakte. All the communities are based inland except Hondeklipbaai which is on the coast.

The project will leverage resources through partnerships with government and civil society to facilitate a number of livelihood opportunities, including:

  • Appointing and training environmental monitors, field rangers and environmental education field officers for Namaqua and Knersvlakte.
  • Exploring opportunities in the bioprospecting sector for natural resources that could be developed into commercial products for the agricultural, aquaculture, bioremediation, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.
  • Training community members to contribute support services in Namaqua and Knersvlakte. This will include work in infrastructure maintenance, such as road maintenance, the renovation or construction of staff or tourism, fence erection and maintenance, marking out and maintaining hiking trails; erosion control, land rehabilitation and the removal of alien plant species. The work can be done through short-term job creation opportunities or through supporting the development of SMMEs that can be contracted by the conservation agencies or local municipalities. They can also be contracted by the gypsum mines in the area for land rehabilitation work.
  • Providing training and resources for the establishment and maintenance of vegetable gardens, improved livestock management, and access to land for grazing.
  • Promoting local community participation in the broader tourism value chain linked to the two protected areas, including accommodation, cultural tourism arts and crafts, and catering and restaurants.

‘In partnership with Conservation South Africa, WWF already has a project focused on sustainable farming methods in the Kammieskroon region,’ Adams explains. ‘Most of the sheep and goat farmers know the value of the environment and what it means to them as it supports their livelihoods. But there is not a lot of land available and they are experiencing the effects of climate change. They say they notice the difference in the veld, and that there is a lot less rain. There is increased interest in sustainable farming among these farmers as they have noticed that those participating in our sustainable farming projects are producing healthier animals and therefore achieving increased profits when they are sold.

The WWF Nedbank Green Trust project is now in its second year, and will be funded until February 2025. ‘We are hoping that significant progress can be made with these communities between now and then, which will hopefully be accompanied by a decrease in the illegal trade of succulents,’ Adams concludes.