Investment in ecological infrastructure (EI) – ecosystems such as mountain catchments, wetlands, coastal dunes and riparian corridors that deliver a range of essential services to humans – is largely driven by the need to protect and conserve biodiversity and to mitigate the effects of environmental degradation.
This is according to researchers from Stellenbosch University (SU) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). They did a systematic review of relevant conservation sources (mainly journals) published between 1970 and 2019 to (1) understand the drivers behind EI investments, (2) understand the willingness and desire of private landowners and land users to participate and contribute to EI investments and (3) identify institutional support mechanisms used to encourage investments.
Published recently in the South African Journal of Science, the study aims to provide evidence-based conservation policy advice, lessons and insights for policy and decision-makers and Natural Resources Management (NRM) practitioners.
“When reviewing the most fundamental drivers or key needs for investments in EI, we found that conservation, natural disasters and socio-economic needs put pressure on various institutions and role players to formulate sound measures to restore and rehabilitate and sustain EI," says Malukhanye Mbopha from the DFFE. Mbopha, who is also a research associate at SU's Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, conducted the research with Karen Esler (Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology at SU), Theo Kleynhans (Department of Agricultural Economics at SU) and Christo Marais (DFFE).
According to the researchers, “concerns about the rapid rate of environmental degradation and potential effects on society have triggered a need for substantial investment efforts to counteract such impacts whilst advancing sustainability. Other drivers include the improvement of livelihoods, adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change and natural disasters and protecting water resources."
They say the review showed that public institutions and private landowners invest in EI through policy implementation, management, political support and self-directed environmental awareness and support to advocacy by NGOs.
“Major institutional investments are financial mechanisms such as incentives and policy frameworks for improved governance. Through these investments, conservation programmes and funds are established to achieve conservation goals for EI, while enhancing economic and social prosperity. This dual approach is essential in a country like South Africa where conservation programmes are anticipated to generate both ecological and socio-economic deliverables on one budget."
The researchers point out that investments are mainly driven by the government for sustainability and by the private sector for social responsibility.
“As the leading investor, the government instituted NRM programmes to restore, maintain and protect EI while alleviating poverty."
They add that private landowners are willing to participate and invest in EI when there are compensation measures in place.
“Incentive-based policies and favourable socio-economic conditions are pivotal in encouraging the willingness to participate in EI programmes."
According to the researchers, we can't afford to underinvest in EI because rapid degradation and threats such as veldfires, droughts, climate change and invasive alien plants will persist and have a negative impact on economic activities, particularly in agriculture and forestry.
“Proper investment is crucial for EI maintenance and restoration which, in turn, complement land productivity and economic growth and safeguard food security.
They call for public-private partnerships to scale up investments that can help augment resources for ecosystem-based management interventions.
“Funds from environmental and water sectors, insurance companies, international funding agencies for climate change, carbon tax funds, corporate institutions and philanthropists could be used to establish risk mitigation support mechanisms to protect businesses, deliver ecosystem services and enhance long-term protection of EI."
The researchers also emphasise the importance of biodiversity stewardship programmes in the management of EI.
“Advocacy and communications should be strengthened to improve awareness, build capacity and awaken conservation interest. Clear messaging on the benefits of EI rehabilitation could leverage political and social support for EI investment."
- Source: Mbopha MS, Marais C, Kleynhans TE, Esler KJ 2021. Unlocking and securing ecological infrastructure investments: The needs and willingness to invest and institutional support mechanisms used. South African Journal of Science 2021;117(9/10): doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2021/8666
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