05 February 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Wood, the Trees, the Water, the People

You might, in the course of your travels, come across people with bright t-shirts bearing the legends Working for Water, or sometimes, Working for Wetlands.

This is a project South Africa has reason to feel rather proud about. Very few countries in the world have combined poverty alleviation with the protection of biodiversity.

Here, the poorest of the poor - mostly women, mostly people who have few skills and have not been employed, get a chance to earn money.

They help chop out invasive alien plants that threaten the country’s indigenous species. Unfortunately, the alien plants are legion, and they live up to their name.

They thrive, uninvited, in watercourses, pushing out endemic species, often sucking up more than their share of the country’s precious water. So these Workers for Water are helping to chop them out.

Working for Wetland came later. These are more specialised teams - they actively work on repairing and restoring critical wetlands.

All you would see is the slog, but a fundamental and important principle is at work here. Government is collaborating with companies to uplift disadvantaged individuals - for the benefit of the environment and the people who depend on it.

Just as an example, all alien invasive trees trees have to be out of wetlands by the end of 2012. Three of South Africa’s forestry companies have committed to the removal of all of their plantation trees from wetlands, something that has massive financial implications - they are losing thousands of hectares and millions of rands.

But if they do it, they get the Forestry Stewardship Council logo on their timber. And for that, they’ll make the sacrifice.

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