Poor People Arise and Help the Letaba River

Over 100 of the poorest people in the Giyani area have already been employed in a poverty alleviation programme that will have direct benefits to the environment, and specifically the Letaba River. 2,000 hectares of land are earmarked in the Letaba River catchment for rehabilitation by 2007 at a cost of R10 million.

The environmental rehabilitation process is being coordinated by Xolani Nicholus Funda, technical director of Arise - African Rural Initiatives for Sustainable Environments.

Funda, whose conservation career began as a ranger in the Kruger National Park (KNP), says that the project will benefit Kruger by improving the water flowing into the park via the Letaba River.

The first 300 ha of land to be rehabilitated have been fenced off, and work is expected to start reviving the soil this month. The first areas chosen lie alongside the small streams that feed the Letaba River, with fenced in areas containing land that varies from totally devastated to having some remaining vegetation. Overgrazing in the past has been a major factor in the land degradation.

Funda says that the work carried out will be labour intensive. Nearby communities identified those most in need of money, and these people, predominantly women, will start the backbreaking work of hoeing the compacted soil in the enclosures. The workers have been provided with protective clothing. Many of them have opened a bank account for the first time in their life to receive their wages.

Kraal manure and fertilisers will be used to rejuvenate the soil. An indigenous nursery, established earlier this year in Gawula village, will provide trees to plant as rehabilitation progresses. The planting of trees will not only increase biodiversity but also provide a carbon sink to help mitigate the effects of global warming. In areas where soil erosion is a problem, gabions will be constructed to prevent further damage.

Scientific monitoring will be carried out as the areas begin to green. To protect the land in the future, the villagers will receive training in livestock management. The Letaba project is the sister of a similar project underway in Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape. Both pieces of land form part of the buffer area around conservation areas.

 Buffer areas have been identified by several international bodies as being important in the conservation of biodiversity. Arise has also been commissioned to make a study of the Sekhukhune area, where extreme overgrazing has destroyed the natural environment. Soil washing off the land during rainstorms in the area turn the Olifants River into a chocolate brown stream and have adverse consequences on downstream biodiversity.

By Melissa Wray

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