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How can South Africa bring biodiversity conservation and the economy together? B Meyer explains the objectives of the proposed National Biodiversity Economy Strategy.


South Africa’s approach to conservation is changing from being a purely an environmental issue, to one citizens can view as a means to generate income through biodiversity-based business. This shift is encapsulated in the proposed National Biodiversity Economy Strategy (NBES), which aims to promote inclusive economic growth opportunities within the biodiversity sector encompassing hunting, bioprospecting, sustainable game and plant growth and harvesting. These new measures are aimed at alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, and creating new jobs while ensuring the environment remains sustainably biodiverse.

To debate the pros and cons of the NBES, Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation “OGRC” will host three experts on its 22nd Tipping Points webinar on May 30: SANParks general manager of policy and governance Howard Hendricks, independent conservation economist Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes and conservation biologist Michelle Pfab – on the 22nd Tipping Points edition for insights into how to negotiate this delicate balancing act. The session will be facilitated by Francois Retief, Professor in Environmental Management within the Research Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North West University.

The NBES is an ambitious proposal, which aims to optimise biodiversity potential over the next 10 years.

To achieve this the NBES lists four goals. However, these goals can be more successfully implemented when other changes are suggested for inclusion policies and infrastructural foundations. To this effect, the NBES includes two cross-cutting imperatives and four enablers listed to work in conjunction with the goals.


GOAL 1: Leveraging biodiversity-based features to scale inclusive ecotourism industry growth in seascapes and in sustainable conservation land-use.

Its main objective is to grow marine-based and land-based eco-tourism sustainably by expanding conservation areas from 20 million ha to 34 million ha by 2040.

It also includes five actions to further establish how their goal can be achieved. These include plans to:

  • create mega-landscapes via voluntary collaboration between community, private and state areas of conservation,
  • develop businesses and infrastructure in Big 5 tourism areas and other areas with a likelihood of community involvement,
  • explore implementing more Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) to increase the appeal of ecological tourist areas to international tourists.


GOAL 2: Consumptive use of Game from extensive wildlife systems at scale that drives transformation and expanded sustainable conservation compatible land-use.

This includes three actions to:

  • formalise the hunting and game meat harvesting sectors in South Africa;
  • increase the number of Big 5 animals available for fair-chase trophy hunting, and community-based recreational hunting, and
  • Create, grow, and formalise large-scale business plans for game meat while ensuring community-owned businesses are included.

These actions intend to increase the gross domestic product (GDP) produced by this sector from R4.6 billion (2020) to R27.6 billion by 2036.


GOAL 3: Consumptive use of wild and produced marine and freshwater resources that drives inclusive coastal socio-economic development.

This plans to increase the consumptive use of freshwater, marine, estuarine and coastal resources by 10% per annum by 2036.

The four action points include:

  • making new transformative and sustainable harvesting strategies for both commercial and small-scale fisheries;
  • simultaneously developing harvesting and aquaculture strategies that remove entry barriers and promote transformation, and
  • effectively implementing the National Freshwater (Inland) Wild Capture Fisheries Policy for a transformed and growing freshwater fisheries sector.


GOAL 4: Well-structured, inclusive, integrated and formalised Bioprospecting, Biotrade, and Biodiversity-based Harvesting and Production Sector that beneficiates communities.

This goal specifies six actions including:

  • creating resources to increase and formalise the bioprospecting sphere and biotechnology research;
  • Working, with traditional healers and communities to increase the ecologically sustainable production and harvesting of wild and indigenous plants for use commercially and in traditional medicine; and
  • mainstreaming the traditional insect harvesting sector with sustainable techniques.

This goal and actions aim to increase the GDP of this trade from R1,85 billion (2020) to R11,8 billion by 2036.

These goals represent the ideals and intended long-term achievements of the NBES. However, to increase the likelihood of success the NBES specifies two cross-cutting imperatives to facilitate needed transformation.

Cross-Cutting Imperative 1: Leverage the Biodiversity Economy to promote conservation and species and ecosystem management, thereby ensuring a positive feedback loop.

This imperative recognises that accurate databases of land use are an essential underpinning to the goals of the NBES. Expanded knowledge of land ownership distribution can encourage participation between the three sectors to help sustain the biodiversity economy. The private sector often has more success monetising their land than others and could share knowledge and employment with those interested in nearby communities.

Cross-Cutting Imperative 2: Promote growth and transformation of the Biodiversity Economy.

These actions focus on changes and new ideas that can ensure equal and fair growth within new and expanding biodiversity economies while maintaining sustainability. They include:

  • new job opportunities and growth, especially for disadvantaged communities, on their land, including traditional authorities;
  • removing or circumventing entry barriers to larger biodiversity-based commercial opportunities;
  • participation in education and public works programmes to ensure sustainability and increased access across all biodiversity sectors, and
  • identifying options for funding, non-monetary support and benefit sharing from the private sector.


Four enablers are then set out to help goal realisation by considering what needs to be done by changing existing infrastructure, capacity, financing and creating cooperation opportunities.


Enabler 1: Effective and Efficient regulation and policy implementation.

Two actions focus on effective, ethical game meat implementation while keeping animal well-being and effectiveness in focus.

The others focus on reviewing and streamlining existing regulations and establishing new intergovernmental frameworks to work with local municipalities.


Enabler 2: Increased capacity, innovation and technological support.

These highlight the need to:

  • increase the number of biodiversity experts through education and employment initiatives with long-term career opportunities, and
  • develop new technological research innovation across both the public and private sectors.


Enabler 3: Financial support sustains conservation and grows the Biodiversity Economy.

This section outlines seven actions to:

  • support new partnerships between private, state and community conservation initiatives to support the funding needs of the conservation and biodiversity economy;
  • help with financial training and entrance into the biodiversity sector;
  • base key mechanisms off financial procedures that have already had positive outcomes within the biodiversity sector;
  • use this and similar knowledge to create a Biodiversity Trust Fund;
  • select elements from the Natural Capital Accounting Payment for Ecosystem Services and Carbon Sequestration and incorporate them into the Biodiversity Economy.


Enabler 4: Market access for Previously Disadvantaged Individuals and communities.

These actions set out mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities for booking hunting or other recreational tourism-based opportunities for small or community-based businesses. The focus is on establishing systems to include previously disadvantaged individuals and communities within the bioprospecting, biotrade and bioeconomies.

This enabler also proposes the development of a regulated market in South Africa for high-end parts and derivates like rhino horn and elephant ivory for local trading (including to international tourists).


Overall, the NBES is an expansive proposal aiming to change the way South Africa can bring biodiversity conservation and the economy together. While focusing on how to use the available biological resources in South Africa, the NBES also focuses on a wide spectrum of conservation issues. These range across expanding conservation areas, sustainability and ethical practices to fostering community improvements and public private partnerships, the value of traditional knowledge and the provision of more educational opportunities.  However, despite the many positive policy implications in the proposed strategy, South African citizens should familiarise themselves with the full proposal in order to critically evaluate any aspects they may find concerning. Engagement with their local and national government representatives and with environmental protection or preservation organisations is critical to ensuring an optimally effective final strategy.


B Meyer
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