Project for Ecosystem Services (ProEcoServ): Strengthening the science-policy interface of biodiversity and ecosystem services

Project lead: Belinda Reyers, Luthando Dziba

Who’s involved?: Belinda Reyers, Luthando Dziba, Jeanne Nel, Patrick O’Farrell, Nadia Sitas, Tracey Cumming, Ilse Kotzee, Phumza Ntshotsho , Janis Smith, Greg Forsyth

Project description: ProEcoServ aims to enhance the integration of ecological infrastructure and ecosystem services into national development planning and policy with the involvement of national and local stakeholders. It is a global project with an umbrella approach, under which four pilot countries with existing skills and programs in ecosystem assessment are developing site and policy-specific activities and tools for decision making within a joint programmatic framework. Other participating countries are Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam and Lesotho.

ProEcoServ focuses on developing capacities of decision makers, users and beneficiaries of ecosystem services to: assess trade-offs and development choices that contribute to enhanced biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, and develop and apply relevant ecosystem management tools within sectoral planning frameworks and macroeconomic planning.

In South Africa, ProEcoServ is a partnership between the CSIR and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) with the Department of Environmental Affairs chairing the project steering committee. The project involves public and private partners from sectors such as agriculture, urban development, water management, business and mining during its four-year duration.

In South Africa, ProEcoServ will focus on three scales.

National policy

ProEcoServ aims to enhance the recognition of the role of ecosystem services in job creation, poverty alleviation and economic growth as being key to ensuring a prosperous, equitable and resilient South Africa. At a national policy scale, the project is investigating policy opportunities and challenges for ensuring ecosystem services are central to poverty alleviation and socioeconomic development. It builds on South Africa’s progressive environmental policy frameworks as well as the strong partnerships between science and policy. ProEcoServ seeks to expand current environmental policy frameworks into areas important for the management of ecological infrastructure and their services. These areas include:

  • Mainstreaming ecosystem services through targeted communication strategies;
  • Incorporating ecosystem services into national development planning processes;
  • Seeking opportunities for public-private partnerships
  • Integration of ecosystem services into the evolving green economy.

Catchment management 

At a catchment level, ProEcoServ looks at water and land use management in the grasslands of the Olifants River catchment in the Witbank area – an area where many in the environmental sector would rather not venture because there is very little ‘nature’ left.  Mining, agriculture and failing infrastructure have left their mark on the landscape with heavy metals, excessive phosphates and untreated sewage seriously threatening water quality and human health in this area. Yet the area is important for agriculture, urban and rural livelihoods and economic development.

Solutions have to be found to reduce the very real threat to water quality in the area, which could have devastating knock-on effects to the agricultural and urban economies in the area, not to mention the health of people.

At a catchment management level, ProEcoServ is about bringing researchers’ knowledge of the role of ecological infrastructure in water and air purification, as well as highlighting the very dangerous and imminent water and air quality thresholds. Further, the project seeks to engage with business, industry and the public sector in order to better understand the impacts of such intensive land use and look for solutions offered to the area by its ecological infrastructure and their services.

Municipal planning

At a municipal scale, ProEcoServ focuses on the development planning and disaster management processes in the Eden District Municipality in the southern Cape, where the effects of climate change are already evident as increased floods, droughts, fire frequency and intensity, and sea storms.

Opportunities and challenges for mainstreaming ecosystem services into development planning processes (e.g. Integrated Development Plans and Spatial Development Frameworks) are being looked at in order to find the most suitable intervention points.

The Risk and Development Annual Review for the Western Cape, published by the University of Cape Town, highlights that between 2003 and 2008, the Western Cape government departments and parastatals incurred direct damage costs exceeding R2.5 billion in eight severe weather events associated with cut-off lows. A recent study of flood, wild-fire and sea storm risk in this area found that climate change is a key driver of increasing risk, but that ecosystem changes have equal if not greater impact on increasing risk. This means that there is much that the public and private sector, as well as civil society, can do to reduce risk, including: clearing of invasive alien plants, restoring wetlands and river buffers, and maintaining or restoring coastal foredunes. The ProEcoServ project is working with local and district municipalities to build ecosystem-based approaches into their disaster risk management.

More information: 
ProEcoServ flyer
www.proecoserv.org
www.csir.co.za/nre/ecosystems/index_test.html