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Minister Edna Molewa officially opens the seventh People and Parks Conference

20 September 2016
 

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, joined by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mr Gugile Nkwinti, today officially opened the three-day 7th People and Parks Conference currently underway in Midrand, Johannesburg today, Tuesday 20 September 2016.

The hosting of this year’s People and Parks Conference forms part of the building blocks towards the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) from 24 September to 5 October 2016. COP17 will focus its attentions on the future operations of the organisation, but also deliberate on the role of CITES in securing the livelihoods of people living with wildlife and ensuring communities are considered in terms of interventions implemented in terms of this Convention.

This year’s biennial conference is convened under the theme: “Unlocking Protected Areas Economic Potential,” providing a platform for stocktaking on progress being made in addressing land claims issues affecting protected areas and measures instituted to facilitate the contribution of protected areas in the enhancement rural livelihoods.

Speaking at the conference, Dr Molewa urged the more than 500 delegates to actively engage in deliberations that will result in formulation of “South African People and Parks Midrand Declaration.” The Midrand Declaration will be taken that we will take to CITES COP 17, to ensure South African voice is heard in the space of endangered species management.

South Africa is home to more than 9 million hectares of protected areas network, which includes national parks, nature reserves and world heritage sites, equating to about 8% of the country’s land. These protected areas, among other things, serve as sites for conserving South Africa’s ecosystems, protection of high biodiversity value and provision of ecosystem services. Most of these protected areas are geographically located in rural areas, forming an integral system with rural communities whose livelihoods and cultures are closely dependent on.

Government, through the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), committed declare a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s), under the auspices of Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy. These MPA’s aim to contribute 5% protection to our Exclusive Economic Zone in 2019 and add to the CBD targets on Marine Protection. “It is important to note that MPAs contribute towards reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated activities in the sensitive ocean environment, thereby providing guidance for future economic development.  Assurance that communities are brought on board through this programme is critical and remains a priority to the department,” said Minister Molewa.

Inspired by the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Parks Congress the People and Parks (IUCN-WPC), the DEA established a People and Parks Programme as an initiative that promotes interface between conservation and communities in South African protected areas. It is one of the Department’s Expanded Public Works Programmes that do not only create much needed job opportunities for South Africans, but also provides tangible economic and social benefits for communities who were previously displaced to pave way for the establishment of protected areas.

The DEA launched the National Co-Management Framework in September 2010, and is in accordance to the provisions of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act No.57 of 2003). The framework provides a coherent national guideline for the co-management of protected areas restored in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 1994 (Act No. 22 of 1994). It also aims to guide conservation agencies and successful restitution claimants in the development of co-management agreements for protected areas structuring benefit packages.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has been working closely with the DEA through the People and Parks Steering Committee which consists of Provincial Environment Departments, Regional Land Commissions, protected area management authorities and communities living adjacent to protected areas to address challenges related to settlement of land claims.

It is through the People and Parks Programme that the DEA is actively involved in restoring and maintaining natural ecosystems to stimulate rural economies; upgrading and developing new infrastructure in protected areas to boost tourism, developing commercial assets for communities owning and or living around protected areas; and supporting related industries.

During the 6th People and Parks Conference in Mthatha two years, the DEA committed to fund community projects within the various protected areas to the tune of R7.8 million. “It gives me great pleasure to announce that of the 34 projects that we had committed, 12 projects have been completed and handed over to owning entities with 12 still under implementation and 10 projects still finalizing planning processes. These projects do not only create temporary job opportunities for the communities during the implementation phase, but develop the necessary infrastructure needed for sustaining conservation efforts in these protected areas,” said Minister Molewa.

More than 500 role players from different spheres of government, representatives of communities living adjacent to protected areas, conservation authorities, non-governmental organisations, civic organisations, academic institutions, traditional leaders and land owners are attending the conference which ends on Wednesday 22 September 2016.

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Albi Modise
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