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The Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project

Submitted by Alice Wojcik 9th September 2019 11:50
Workers planting trees at the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Site

Workers prepare a site for the planting of trees at the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Site. (Source: Ethekwini Municipality)

Key Messages

  • This model can show how natural ecosystems support and protect communities and how communities can support and protect local ecosystems in return.
  • Ownership of lands can be a major challenge when implementing a project.
  • The project resulted in an increase in biodiversity within the region
  • Significant socio-economic benefits for some of the most impoverished communities in Durban was a result of this project.

Introduction

This case study is from the FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book - this link provides a summary of the book, the other case studies and a downloadable pdf.

The Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project was initiated in 2008. The project aims to address the environmental risks associated with a landfill by increasing urban biodiversity, and by maintaining natural buffer zones – measures intended to foster adaptation to climate change, and to create more resilient community planning.

As a co-benefit, the project has also successfully contributed to alleviating the climate change impacts associated with hosting elements of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Reductions have been achieved by planting indigenous trees, and by restoring local natural habitat within the buffer zone around the Buffelsdraai Landfill site (situated in the north of Durban).

The reforestation project, established as a natural carbon sink, aimed to offset the equivalent of approximately 42,000 tons CO2. The total offset is expected to be achieved over a 20-year period.

Climate Risks and Other Stressors

Recurring drought presents a major challenge. In 2013, Durban experienced very hot and dry periods. During that time, the project’s water pump also malfunctioned, which led to heat stress and, consequently, to increased tree mortality.

The clearing of alien invasive plant species also presented participants of the reforestation project with challenges.

The Buffelsdraai Landfill is important for city waste disposal; but like all landfills, it also has environmental impacts. Odour, noise and the visual impact of the landfill count among other factors that impair the well-being and health of nearby residents.

Adaptation Approach

The ‘Indigenous trees for life’ concept used in this adaptation example was developed by the Wildlands Conservation Trust. Local community members (‘tree- preneurs’) are encouraged to grow indigenous tree seedlings in their ‘home nurseries’ (in the buffer zone around the landfill site) until these saplings reach a suitable height, and are ready to be traded.

On collection of the trees, tree-preneurs are paid with credit notes. These can be used at ‘tree stores’ to purchase groceries, bicycles, or building materials; or to pay for school fees or vehicle driving lessons.

The project’s reach extends beyond Buffelsdraai to include neighbouring communities which can participate in the exchange of trees for goods. As a result, these communities also benefit through sustainable job creation.

Link to SDGs

Sustainable economic development, and the jobs that go with such development, hold the potential to lift some of the most vulnerable residents of Buffelsdraai out of poverty (SDG 1). The project also contributed to a more resilient community settlement (SDG 11) by adopting a community ecosystem- based approach, and by contributing to the restoration and protection of terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15).

Challenges

  • The contested ownership of lands in the buffer zone
  • Grazing cattle and goats, and arson fires – damaged trees
  • Trespassing, illegal settlements, hunting and petty theft
  • Follow-up steps had to be taken as soon as trees had been planted
  • Some community members were neither sufficiently aware of why the reforestation project was initiated, nor sufficiently informed about its potential benefits (UNFCCC, 2012).

Benefits

Wide-ranging benefits resulted from the implementation of the community reforestation project in Buffelsdraai:

  • The region showed a marked increase in biodiversity (both fauna and flora)
  • The project also led to the offsetting of 50,000 of the 307,208 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions associated with the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, which Durban hosted
  • Ensured the improved supply of a large number of other ecosystem services, such as water quality, flood attenuation, sediment regulation, biodiversity refuge conservation, and river flow regulation
  • Produced significant socio-economic benefits to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable communities in Durban.
  • A social impact assessment after the second year of the project implementation showed that education and food security had increased (Greater Capital, 2011). Schooling for children had been improved; project participants earned additional income to cover needs such as transportation. Access to adequate food supply in two of the project communities had increased by 40%

Lessons Learnt

Engaging with communities from the onset of the project is essential. Community members need to see the value of the project. Otherwise, engagement, project ownership and project sustainability remain challenging. In addition, this project demonstrated a range of co-benefits, many of them the result of participation by local people. Planting trees and restoring natural ecosystems resulted in economic opportunities for the city and neighbouring communities. The project showed the participants that they can play an active role in adaptation to climate change.

The sustainability of the Buffelsdraai community reforestation project will need to take into account the longer-term transition of the project once the tree planting has been completed, so that the forest and its biodiversity can continue to improve, and so that community job creation can be sustained.

In conclusion, this pioneering model, which gave rise to the ‘tree-preneur’, shows how natural ecosystems support and protect human communities; and they show how human communities can support, restore and protect local ecosystems in return.