Invasive alien plants and job creation

10 May 2011

KwaZulu-Natal’s Invasive Alien Species Programme has created more than 4 000 job opportunities a year since its inception in 2005, while tackling the scourge of invasive alien plant species in the province.

Invasive alien plants are those that have been brought to South Africa from other countries for their aesthetic, economic or ecological value, or in some cases unintentionally. However, they are brought here without their natural enemies, which results in plants reproducing copiously.

In KwaZulu-Natal, alien invasive hotspots include Zululand, the Natal Midlands and the coastal zone. In 1998, a staggering 9.75 percent of the province assessed was invaded.

The provincial Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development works together with conservation groups to identify affected areas, which are then targeted for cleanup operations.

Threat to water security, ecosystems

According to Nonhlanhla Mkhize, project manager for KwaZulu-Natal’s Invasive Alien Species Programme (IASP), invasive alien species affect water security and the ecological functioning of natural systems. They also pose a threat to the productive use of land, while intensifying the impact of veld fires and floods and increasing soil erosion.

Eco-tourism is also affected, say Mkhize. People visit South Africa to enjoy the country’s indigenous fauna and flora, not to see what they already have in their own country.

“When we lose our biodiversity and ecosystems, we lose our clean air, eco-tourism and traditional medicines,” says Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development MEC Lydia Johnson. “When we lose potentially productive agricultural land and conservation land, there will be a reduction in the land value.

“When we lose grazing lands for livestock, we will have to use more supplementary feed for the livestock, resulting in high costs in livestock farming and increased poverty,” says Johnson.

Value-adding opportunities

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Mkhize says one aspect of the programme focuses on value-adding opportunities by creating products like “eco-coffins” and school desks from alien trees.

Sandile Motaung heads up a plant in Durban where the desks and eco-coffins are made on request. Prior to 2006, Motaung was unemployed; now he has been trained in coffin and desk making.

Alien trees that are cut down all over the province are collected and processed to make these products, which now include church pews and boardroom tables.

The department selects unemployed people and trains them in life skills, safety and operational skills. Social issues form part of these workshops, and they are also taught to create and sustain viable businesses.

Motaung’s life has been turned around after becoming involved in this project, and has now set his sights on having his own company in two years time.

“I had an interest in making furniture, but didn’t have any skills,” says Motaung. “I got into this programme and have learnt a lot of things. I now teach this to my team here. I do feel like I make a difference to their lives.”

Experienced coffin maker Koos Goosen, responsible for training Motaung, says he enjoys mentoring young people. Goosen also educates his trainees on safety and health regulations, and is always on hand to assist them.

School Desk Project

The School Desk Project currently employs 91 people, of which 47 percent are women, 37 percent are youngsters and five percent are people with disabilities. Earlier this year, the project handed over 200 desks to rural Sabuyaze Primary School.

“Training and empowerment of the beneficiaries of the IASP programme is seen as one of the key solutions to addressing the socio-economic challenges of rural poor communities,” says Johnson.

“The vision of the department … is to train and empower programme beneficiaries and let them form their own business initiatives outside the department’s ambit.”

The department constantly receives request for donations, says Mkhize, but all institutions are encouraged to buy these products so that the projects continue to be viable.

Mkhize says that although this is not the core business of the department, they are finalising the appropriate model for the project so that people can continue manufacturing products on their own.

For more information on the programme, contact Nonhlanhla Mkhize on Nonhlahla Mkhize 0823777080.

Source: BuaNews