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Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson visits Land Rehabilitation Project in Kwazulu-Natal

11 August 2015

 

The Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Barbara Thomson, visited a land rehabilitation project funded through the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Working for Land Programme in Nquthu, KwaZulu-Natal on 11 August 2015.

The visit by the Deputy Minister formed part of the 2015 World Day to Combat Desertification commemorations. The Deputy Minister was joined by the Executive Mayor of Umzinyathi District Municipality Cllr James Mthethwa, Executive Mayor of Nquthu, Cllr Emily Molefe and the MEC for KZN Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Cyril Xaba.

17 June was proclaimed World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought by the United Nations in 1994 and has been marked worldwide annually since 1995. The celebration could not take place in South Africa on 17 June due to unforeseen circumstances. The Department of Environmental Affairs however remained committed to commemorating this important day in order to highlight the reality of land degradation in South Africa.

The theme for 2015 is “Attainment of food security for all through sustainable food systemswhich will be used in combination with the slogan “No such thing as a free lunch.  Invest in healthy soils”. The slogan calls on everyone to take action in order to address matters relating to food security, eradication of hunger and poverty alleviation.

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems which cover over one third of the world’s land area are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the productivity of land.

The Nquthu land rehabilitation project, which is funded through the DEA’s Working for Land Programme, was showcased during the event. The project is aimed at rehabilitating the land through the sloping of dongas, construction of gabions, planting of vetiver grass and planting of 1 000 indigenous trees in the area. More than R15 million has been allocated to the project.

The total of 192 people are employed in the project and come from the nine  surrounding villages. The workforce is made up of 55% women, 60% youth and 2% of people with disabilities as a contribution to the alleviation of rural poverty. The project complements the work of other related Expanded Public Works (EPWP) programmes like the LandCare initiative of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

KwaZulu-Natal has a fairly high provincial veld degradation index and one of the highest provincial indices of soil degradation and susceptibility to donga formation.

The province is experiencing serious challenges relating to drought, in the recent months that is also affecting water systems. In this regard, DLDD (Desertification, Land Degradation & Drought) undermines the productive potential of land and water resources in this area. The consequences are therefore considerable and diverse in terms of the provisioning of goods and services provided by natural ecosystems with directly impacts on human welfare, our biodiversity and the productive potential of our land.

The Deputy Minister stated that poverty is at its most prevalent among communities that depend directly on land. She wasencouraged that there is much fertile land here in the district municipality (Nquthu), and that agriculture remains important. It is in this context that government through its different spheres is implementing programmes, through its Expanded Public Works Programmes like Working for Land by DEA and LandCare by DAFF among many others to address these challenges, create jobs and alleviate poverty.

Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister Thomson said: “We can overcome the challenges we are facing today by further avoiding degradation in new areas and start prioritizing the restoration of degrading lands at large scale. This will minimize the negative effects on the land and enable it to regain its natural abilities it has lost. This is why our government is spending millions in “working for” Environmental Programmes to clear invasive species, restore and care for our degraded land and ecosystems. Ladies and Gentleman, let us act together on a global scale to make SLM (Sustainable Land Management) to be part of the agenda and to enable the most vulnerable communities to withstand the worst DLDD-related stresses that may happen.”

The Deputy Minister called for national campaigns on raising awareness to have mechanisms and systems that will prevent future devastating impacts of DLDD.

She said: “We need to stand together in addressing these challenges that impact on all of us in one way or the other, particularly the youth and women. We may not eliminate all the impacts of DLDD today but with healthy and productive land many tragedies can be prevented. DLDD is about changing the status of the land. Working together we can do more.”

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Albi Modise
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