CSIR steps in to help make a change

agriculture---textOver the past two years, the scientists have focused on three main sectors, namely: small-scale agriculture, aquaculture and mining. (Image: WWF)

Poor communities and disadvantaged entrepreneurs are getting a pro-bono helping hand from the highly skilled scientists at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

For the past two years, the council has run its Special Needs and Skills Development Programme, through which it conducts environmental studies small businesses and emergent initiatives need to undertake to meet their legal obligations.

The primary objectives of the programme are to assist emerging or small-scale businesses and entrepreneurs, companies and community trusts in the mining, waste and agricultural sectors to meet the regulatory requirements of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema), including environmental impact assessment services.

The Special Needs and Skills Development Programme also serves to build critical skills in South Africa’s environmental management sector. Four young post-graduates are employed on the programme; they work under the management of senior CSIR staff in supporting the environmental management needs of poor people in rural communities. The work done by the team is pro bono, or undertaken for free for the public good.

Rirhandzu Marivate, a junior environmental specialist at the CSIR, spoke about the importance of the programme.

AGRICULTURE AND MINING

Over the past two years, the scientists have focused on three main sectors, namely: small-scale agriculture, aquaculture and mining.

“To date, we have conducted one environmental screening study for the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Natural Resource Management, looking at biochar and composting facilities for the rehabilitation of the Umzimvubu River catchment [area] in the Eastern Cape,” said Marivate.

“We did another environmental screening study for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for the Amatikulu Aquacultural Development Zone in KwaZulu-Natal, and four basic assessments in the agricultural sector and one in the mining sector.”

BALANCING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

The main reason for undertaking this pro bono work is to balance economic opportunities in South Africa.

“The cost associated with obtaining an environmental assessment may contribute to unequal economic opportunities in South Africa and is a hindrance to local economic development,” she explained.

“The goal of the programme is to provide environmental assessments for emerging, small- to medium-scale business entrepreneurs, companies and community trusts that do not have the funds to do so themselves, in the hopes of meaningfully contributing to the economic growth of society and the local economy.”

WORKING WITH THE GOVERNMENT

Various government departments collaborate on work done on the Special Needs and Skills Development Programme.

“We have reached out to numerous government departments and other private institutions. Thus far, we have built good working relationships with the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We have also had successful relationships with the Land Bank together with its associate institutions,” Marivate said.

“As I mentioned before most our project are from agriculture, aquaculture and mining, and this is because of the relationships we have formed with [these] departments and institutions. We have been working with community trusts, small businesses and individuals who want to initiate projects for subsistence or commercial purposes. The reach has been nationwide, with many projects coming from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western and Eastern Cape.”

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PROGRAMMES

The Department of Environmental Affairs runs the Natural Resource Management Programme. It is important to the CSIR’s initiative as it helps to identify local opportunities that address unemployment.

“The Natural Resources Management Programme is one of the environmental programmes within the Department of Environmental Affairs. The government has the Expanded Public Works Programme, which works in line with the environmental programmes and aims to address unemployment by working with communities to identify local opportunities that will benefit the community,” she said.

“The Natural Resources Management Programme specifically addresses issues concerning sustainable water resource management, safeguarding biological diversity and ensuring functioning natural ecosystems while ensuring meaningful livelihood opportunities are supported for those employed by the programme.”

Her team had worked with the natural resources programme in the Umzimvubu River catchment area. The Ntambelanga and Laleni dams will be built in the area to increase water supply for domestic and agricultural use, hydro-power generation, and to contribute to socio-economic upliftment of the local communities.

ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SKILLS

With its main aim being to address the critical skills shortage in the environmental management field, Marivate spoke about the essential skills needed.

“The environmental management field is still an emerging sector that speaks to many different fields in the natural sciences,” she said, “from studying environmental management itself, to people like myself who have a background in ecology, while others studied urban planning, marine biology, civil engineering, economics, or social science.

“The field of environmental management shows that it addresses not only environmental issues, but social and economic issues. As we know, many of these fields are still considered scarce skills and more capacity is needed in order to address the skills shortage.”

NEEDS OF POOR PEOPLE IN RURAL COMMUNITIES

Many rural people wanted to start their own businesses, such as cultivating sugar cane, breeding chickens or pigs, even mining for sand, she said. But environmental assessments were often needed before these businesses could be established, in accordance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations of Nema.

“The cost of environmental assessment is a major hindrance for these developments. The legislation makes provision in Regulation 70 of the regulations, which states that disadvantaged people must be given reasonable assistance. The Special Needs programme was set up by the [Department of Environmental Affairs] in association with [North-West University] and the CSIR to respond to Regulation 70.”