Celebrating Biodiversity in the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere

During a gala dinner at The Dumbwaiter Restaurant in Hoedspruit, Dr Mike Peel from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and Jenny Newenham from the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere presented the results of the two-day biodiversity monitoring activity that took place over the weekend. Various politicians, media, community members and other stakeholders attended the dinner. This formal function served as the conclusion of the three-day Sustainable Living Festival held at Southern Cross Schools in Hoedspruit.

In the opening address Collins Chabane, Limpopo MEC for environmental affairs and tourism, pointed out some interesting facts about the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere while providing guests with a short background of the origins of this Biosphere. Prof Manfred Niekisch, IUCN regional councillor, director Frankfurt Zoo, Germany highlighted three reasons why he believes South Africa was the perfect choice to host the Sustainable Living Festival and that this Festival was, according to him, very special. Firstly because of the peaceful transformation from the old South Africa to the new South Africa; secondly because of the country's extreme richness in biodiversity and lastly because it is immediately before the International Conference of Biodiversity that will be hosted in Bonn, Germany on International Biodiversity Day, May 22.

Debby Thomson and Winners Mashego, members of the K2C Biosphere executive committee, will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Rhön Biosphere in Germany, underlining the relationship between the two biospheres. He went on to explain how the theme for this year's conference is extra special and focusses on the balance between biodiversity and agriculture, which he describes as the nutritional basis for mankind. He pointed out that loss of biodiversityand lack of proper agricultural management inevitably contributes to poverty. Therefore, according to Dr Niekisch, fighting poverty should be one of the main priorities. He encouraged the guests to be more creative in finding ways to combat poverty.

In a slide show presentation, Peel and Newenham then presented the findings of the biodiversity monitoring activity that was part of the sustainable living festival. The presentation was divided in four parts, the afro-montane, grassland, savanna and the aquatic ecosystem. See the box for an overview. Apart from these results the evening also facilitated the launch of the "From the Region for the Region" project. This initiative is one of the projects that was identified by the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere.

Debby Thomson, project coordinator of the K2C Biosphere, explained the origin and idea behind this project. According to her the K2C Biosphere's relationship and interaction with the Röhn Biosphere in Germany contributed greatly to the birth of this project. This project is mostly about keeping the region's produce in the region and in doing so keeping the region's money in the region. This would mean that the grocery store would not have to go to Johannesburg to purchase produce that originally came from the neighbourhood - but that direct trade will be facilitated and promoted. Produce will be marked with a logo that will give the consumer the choice of supporting his or her own region. She explains that the Maruleng Chamber of Commerce has already come on board with this project and that various retail stores have indicated that they will support this initiative.

A special greeting from Heidemarie Wiechkzorek-Zeul, German minister of economic co-operation and development, addressed to Rejoice Mabudafhasi, deputy minister of the department of environmental affairs and tourism (Deat), and the guests at the dinner, was read out. In this message Wiechkzorek-Zeul congratulated the K2C Biosphere on their growth and successfully hosting the Sustainable Living Festival. She stated that Germany supports the K2C and that she is looking forward to interacting with the delegates at the Biodiversity Conference. She stressed that she is committed to equitable benefit sharing and welcomed South Africa on joining in the discovering, admiring and protecting of the diversity of the world.

In the keynote address Mabudafhasi also congratulated the K2C Biosphere on their success and expressed the hope that they will grow to become the largest Biosphere in the world. She called on the K2C Biosphere to actively engage in activities that will encourage the southern region of South Africa to also promote biodiversity and sustainable living. She commented that if South Africa can succeed in demonstrating the balance between conservation and development sufficiently, South Africa will become the prime tourist destination it could be. Her main message was that developing a rich learning environment in which communities can be educated and taught how to manage their own biodiversity is an inevitable part of working towards the biodiversity goal. According to her this is the reason why Deat will continuously strive towards settling land claim issues in the region. She believes that equal land ownership will improve the accessibility to the region's natural resources to all of the estimated 1.5 million people living in the region.

Mabudafhasi also stressed the importance of educating the youth on the principles of sustainable living. She pointed out that the fight against poverty and the education of sustainable living goes hand in hand and cannot be viewed separately. She concluded her message with a statement that her department will support the K2C Biosphere in every possible way. The district mayor of Mopani, Humphrey Mogobi, ended the evening with a formal vote of thanks to all departments, organisations and individuals who contributed to the success of the Sustainable Living Festival and the gala dinner. He ended his speech by once again appealing to the guests to focus on looking after the world. He commented that after six days of creating, God left the world to mankind to protect and utilise the earth in a sustainable way.

By Zanne de Bruin

Kruger National Park - South African Safari
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