By John Holler
Driving down the dirt roads that border South Africa’s Kruger National Park, I pass by the centuries-old termite mounds that protrude above the red soil. The difference in landscape is stark. On one side of the road, protected by high wire fences, lies the protected savannah where the lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo reside. They graze in isolation from animals which wander the opposite side of the road where the grass is much shorter and the soil noticeably more exposed. These are the cattle of the Mnisi and Amashangaan communal rangelands, where rural farmers and families bring their livestock during the day.
Earlier in the morning, a young boy had led his family’s cattle to the rangelands, his father already at work elsewhere in support of his family. The boy, who would need to have hurried to attend school on time, left the cattle unattended, as lack of other options required. His family has obligations that do not allow them to actively manage their livestock during the day – this also means that nobody can watch for ticks or keep the cattle safe from other dangers. The resulting unmanaged grazing, however, has degraded the rangeland: bush encroachment, erosion, and hardening of soil have made the area less resilient to climatic changes – and less capable of supporting local community.
The needs of this boy’s family and the land are the focus of Conservation South Africa’s (CSA) project to improve communal rangeland and unlock rural opportunities. To assess and report on the sustainable development benefits achieved by this project, Conservation South Africa has been working with Verra to pilot our new Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta). SD VISta is a flexible framework for project developers to define, and consistently report on, their most relevant and valuable project outcomes to unlock new sources of finance to support and scale up high-impact efforts. The design of this project is unique, impactful, and inspiring in its collaborative nature. Conservation South Africa has made innovative use of conservation stewardship agreements, whereby farmers in the Mnisi and Amashangaan tribal lands agree to rest over-utilized grazing areas to allow for their replenishment and active management.
But why don’t the farmers do this already, and what additional value does this CSA-led project provide? The answer highlights the creative thinking behind this initiative.
Think back to the boy leading his family’s livestock to the rangeland. This rural family has obligations that do not allow them to actively manage their livestock during the day. They must share limited grazing land with the entire community, and setting aside part of this communal area for resting further stresses resources and carries a real threat of their livestock going hungry. Consider all of these challenges, and then know this: the land is within a government-designated foot-and-mouth disease zone. The livestock in these villages are not sold outside of the zone’s boundaries, because the introduction of an infected animal could shut down an entire processing facility for weeks. This restricted livestock market further strains the resources of these farmers. Under these conditions it should come as no surprise that actively managing rotational grazing activities is a tall order.
CSA’s project addresses all of these challenges. CSA secures agreements from farmers to cooperatively set aside portions of communal land for resting. In return, CSA commits to delivering livestock fodder to farmers at massive discounts during periods where cattle are at a threat of going hungry, alleviating the concern that setting aside communal land for replenishment could impact their livestock – and their livelihoods. CSA also trains and hires local “Eco-rangers” to herd, monitor, and safely manage the cattle on behalf of their owners, so the young boy can go to school and his father can go to work, not having to worry about their livestock. Other measures improve on the capacity of the land to support the community, such as active brush thinning and other techniques that increase grass growth and water retention, and reduce soil erosion. Finally, a private enterprise developed by CSA, Meat Naturally Pty, tracks livestock health and provides a mobile processing facility through which farmers may sell their cattle.
Between the two communities, this project has improved over 3,500 hectares of community rangelands, created 33 new jobs, and supported the management of 1,100 cattle. Income is estimated to increase by 67% per livestock owner, per year. Not only are these project activities vastly helpful to families, they are profoundly transformational. Because CSA worked within existing local governance structures to negotiate these conservation agreements with farmers, and because of the sustainability of these activities, CSA will be able to transition out of its role and allow the enhanced governance structure to drive itself.
By piloting Verra’s Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SD VISta), project leaders have a framework with which they can assess the project’s contributions to specific targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals during the project lifetime. Demonstrating the project’s contributions through this standard provides an independent, credible and transparent means to attract additional financing to replicate and scale these activities in the region.
Stay tuned for the official launch of SD VISta and more project stories from my colleagues. For more information, or if you are interested in certifying a project under SD VISta, please contact email@example.com.
John Holler is a Senior Program Officer at Verra.