Grasslands Programme

The Grasslands Programme was a partnership between government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to mainstream biodiversity into the Grassland Biome, with the intention of balancing biodiversity conservation and development imperatives in a production landscape. The Programme was catalysed through an $8.3 m investment from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and approximately 26 partner organisations. The Programme relies on partnerships to mainstream biodiversity objectives into the major production sectors that operate in the Grassland Biome. These include agriculture, forestry, coal mining, and urban economies, as well as the enabling environment. The Programme was launched in 2008 and closed in December 2013 with the end of the UNDP-GEF investment.

In the early 2000s, the importance of co-ordinated action to protect South Africa’s Grassland Biome for its biodiversity, ecosystem services as well as its contribution towards economic development was recognised by NGOs and the government. In 2002, the then Gauteng Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Environment (GDACE) initiated the Grasslands Forum with the support of other role-players from across the biome. This body requested that the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) lead the development of the Grasslands Programme. In 2004 SANBI submitted a proposal to the United Nations Development Programme requesting funding from the Global Environment Facility to support the detailed design of a programme of conservation action in the Grasslands Biome to fund its initial 5-year phase.

What we do

In its five years of implementation, the Grasslands Programme has been mainstreaming biodiversity into the Grassland Biome by influencing policies and regulations, strengthening institutional capacity, and catalysing pilot projects that demonstrate biodiversity gains across sectors. This was done through strengthening the enabling environment for integrating biodiversity objectives into the major production sectors operating in South Africa’s Grasslands Biome, namely agriculture, forestry, urban development and coal mining.

In these sectors, the programme aimed to do the following:

  • Strengthen the enabling environment for biodiversity conservation in production landscapes in the grasslands biome
  • Mainstream grassland biodiversity conservation objectives into agriculture
  • Ensure that the forestry sector directly contributes to biodiversity conservation objectives in the grasslands biome
  • Mainstream grassland biodiversity management objectives into the urban economy in Gauteng
  • Secure biodiversity management in the coal mining sector

Where we work

The Grasslands Programme has been mainstreaming biodiversity into production practices across large areas of the Grasslands Biome. To better understand the reach of these interventions, the Programme conducted a process of mapping its footprint. This footprint charts the areas where the Grasslands Programme has supported biodiversity conservation initiatives, either directly or indirectly. The direct footprint shows the site-specific interventions that the Programme and its partners were directly involved in. Across the various sectors, the direct footprint amounted to an extensive 1 372 000 ha (3.8% of the Grasslands Biome), including more than 60 000 ha of grassland ecosystems proclaimed as protected areas. The indirect footprint illustrates the broader influence of the Grasslands Programme both within and beyond the Grasslands Biome. The indirect footprint even extends beyond the Grasslands Biome, since several of the policy and guideline documents developed or supported by the Grasslands Programme are nationally relevant.

Reason for our programme

The Grasslands Biome is rich in species, both threatened and endemic, and boasts three World Heritage Sites, iconic landscapes, mountains and wetlands that are important water sources, and a range of production sectors that underpin economic development. However, widespread habitat loss, poor planning and management as well as weak enforcement have led to the over-utilisation and degradation of this valuable biome. Thirty percent (30%) of the biome has been irreversibly transformed up to date. The inevitable trade-offs between competing land uses made plain the need for urgent, strategic and focused action supportive of sustainable development. The Grasslands Programme was initiated through UNDP-GEF funds to mainstream biodiversity into production sectors as the best way of managing these pressures, and as a complementary conservation strategy to securing land through protected areas in this highly productive working landscape.

What we have achieved

Since its inception in 2008, the Grasslands Programme has worked hard to mainstream biodiversity into the policies and practices of the major production sectors operating in the grasslands biome. These achievements include:

Land in production landscapes formally secured for biodiversity management:

  • Over the years, the Programme has implemented mainstreaming biodiversity interventions that have directly affected approximately 1 372 000 ha (3.8%) of the Grasslands Biome.
  • This includes the declaration of 138 000 ha of grassland ecosystems and the species that live in them and another 25 000 ha are gazetted with intent to declare.  

The enabling Environment for biodiversity conservation in production landscapes has been strengthened:

  • The Programme’s national dialogues have mainstreamed the concept of investing in ecological infrastructure into national policy and planning and have catalysed the Umngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP). This initiative was informed by lessons from Grasslands Programme’s pilot projects in payments for ecosystem services.
  • The importance of making the case for biodiversity and the Grasslands Programme’s contribution towards biodiversity mainstreaming was acknowledged during an international workshop of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).
  • Successes of the programme were captured in a booklet on Mainstreaming biodiversity: Key principles from the Grasslands Programme.
  • Influenced and supported the implementation of relevant production sector and biodiversity policies.
  • Co-ordinated learning, knowledge-sharing and improved awareness of the value of grasslands biodiversity and ecosystem services to society.

In the agriculture sector, the programme and its partners have:

  • Supported the proclamation of the largest Protected Environment – the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment – in South Africa.
  • Supported the proclamation of the first Protected Environment – the KwaMandlangampisi Protected Environment – in South Africa.
  • These and other contributions in the agriculture sector have resulted in 97 760 ha to date declared as formal protected areas with another 17 000 ha on the way.
  • Developed Biodiversity Agreements with 3 land reform communities in isiZulu and English
  • Implemented biodiversity good management practice on 100 000 ha.
  • Published the Grasslands Ecosystem Guidelines and the Grazing and Burning Guidelines. These are tools to improve planning and management across the Grassland and Indian Ocean Coastal Belt Biomes.
  • Provided strategic advice into the development or review of agricultural laws and policies.
  • Piloted market-based mechanisms for environmentally friendly red meat production (e.g Red-Meat Standard).

In the forestry sector, the work of the programme and its partners has resulted in:

  • This being the first production sector in the Programme to implement tools and protect new areas.
  • A Conservation Planning Tool to better manage more 290 000 ha unplanted forestry company owned land.
  • The proclamation of 32 780 ha of unplanted forestry-owned land for biodiversity conservation through biodiversity stewardship.
  • Improved capacity of 4 small-scale timber growers to implement sustainable forestry management at their sites.
  • The development of a national standard for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

In the urban sector, focused on Gauteng, the programme and its partners:

  • Have supported Gauteng to be the first province to have draft bioregional plans for all municipalities.
  • Are in the process of ensuring formal protection for more than 25 000 ha grassland ecosystems and the species that live in them.
  • Have developed 7 tools and 1 toolbox for better planning and mainstreaming. This includes the development of “Biodiversity Mainstreaming Toolbox” for land-use planning and decision-making in Gauteng. The development of bioregional plans, a biodiversity offset guideline, a green servitude regulatory tool, a lifestyle estate guideline, and other tools specifically for Gauteng and its municipalities.
  • Have trained more than 110 people during 4 events and more training planned in the future.

In the mining sector, the work of the programme and its partners has resulted in:

  • This being the first production sector in the Programme to get government endorsed regulatory tools.
  • Proactive biodiversity stewardship on 9 200 ha in a strategic water source area.
  • Wetland offsets being piloted with 1 coal mining company on 119 ha.
  • More than 700 people trained on the Mining and Biodiversity Guidelines and the Wetland Offset Guidelines.

Who we are

The Grasslands team was:

Anthea Stephens (SANBI)

Director: Grasslands Programme

Mahlodi Tau (SANBI)

Grasslands Programme Co-ordinator

Matlhodi Mokonoto

Grasslands Administrator

Eleanor Marks

Finance Manager

Aimee Ginsburg (SANBI)

Learning Network Co-ordinator

Kennedy Nemutamvuni (SANBI)

Learning Network Officer

Emily Botts (SANBI)

Learning Network Researcher

Maphale Matlala

Junior Biodiversity Researcher

Tsamaelo Malebu

GIS technician

Mark Botha (SANBI)

Policy Advisor

Tsumbedzo Mudalahothe (SANBI)

Agriculture Co-ordinator

Angus Burns (WWF-SA)

Wakkerstroom/Luneburg Co-ordinator

Budu Manaka (SANBI/GDARD)

Urban Co-ordinator

Steve Germishuizen (FSA)

Forestry Co-ordinator

Stephen Holness (SANBI)

Coal Mining Co-ordinator

How to contact us

For information on the Grasslands Programme or the products and tools developed through the Grasslands Programme, contact:

Name: Kennedy Nemutamvuni

Tel:  +27 (012) 843 5000

or visit SANBI's Biodiversity Advisor.

Last updated on 30 June 2014
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