I HAD a pleasant ‘walk down memory lane’ reading your
articles on South Africa (
, Issue 24, pp 6–7) as I was employed by CSIR Environmentek
as an environmental scientist and terrestrial ecologist, and worked
with Bob Scholes, before I came to Australia early last year. I
have also had some dealings with Timm Hoffmann, while he was with
the SA National Botanical Institute, before his recent
appointment at the University of Cape Town.
I agree with many of Bob’s comments regarding the
similarities between southern African and Australian savanna (and
other) ecosystem issues, concerns, problems and solutions. As I
increase my professional involvement in, and understanding of, the
issues here in Australia, I have found it interesting comparing
Australian and southern African approaches to similar issues.
I also read your article on Landcare in South Africa with great
interest. While Landcare has existed in South Africa since 1997, a
similar set-up called ‘conservancies’ has been around
for more than 20 years. The establishment of conservancies among
neighbouring farmers and within districts and catchments was (and
still is) encouraged by the provincial (state) parks and wildlife
agencies, who also used to (some still do) provide extension
services to the conservancies.
The conservancies each have their own constitutions and management
committees and their activities encompass addressing landcare
issues including biodiversity conservation and wildlife management.
They also serve to generate agri- and ecotourism opportunities and,
depending on their circumstances, generate additional income from
offering seasonal hunting concessions etc.
My enthusiasm regarding the effectiveness of conservancies comes
from my own past involvement with conservancies in KwaZulu-Natal.
Part of my conservation biology Masters research, which looked at
the effects of intensive commercial agriculture on farmland
biodiversity, was funded by a research and education trust
established by several conservancies.
In my opinion, the fundamental difference between conservancies and
the current Landcare initiative is that the conservancies were
established by (‘white’) commercial farmers and the
Landcare initiative focuses on and is aimed at rural areas
inhabited predominantly by (‘black’) communal farmers.
The historic circumstances surrounding each of these two scenarios
have resulted in a range of environmental concerns.
While many of these concerns are unique, a lot of them apply to
both commercially and communally managed agricultural land. I have
always felt that the conservancies should be strongly encouraged to
assist their neighbouring communal farming communities to establish
similar movements through the provision of organisational
assistance and the transfer of skills, knowledge and experience.
Such an approach would certainly improve and foster better
black/white neighbour relations. It would appear that this
opportunity is being overlooked by the Landcare initiative.
Finally, in response to your food for thought request, my
impressions of urban Australia can best be summed up as
‘Lawns and Prawns’.
Lionel Pero, University of Queensland