Alien plants the root of job creation in Babanango

In January this year, alien plants took on a useful role for the Babanango community in northern KwaZulu Natal. Invasive alien plants in the area are a major threat to biodiversity in catchments, potentially disrupting the delicate natural balance in ecosystems.

Since Zulu Rock Game Lodge and Babanango Outdoor Education (BOE) came under new management late last year, there has been a renewed drive in the Babanango region, spearheaded by Zulu Rock Lodge’s director, Jeffrey van Staden, and his team to preserve the area’s indigenous fauna and flora. In partnership with conservationists, non-profit organisations and the local community they aim to educate people about the value of this eco-system.

The Zulu Rock Lodge and BOE management team partnered with the Emcakwini Community Trust at the beginning of the year to recruit locals from the Babanango area to become part of an official alien plants removal team. This partnership created jobs for 37 trust beneficiaries who, under the leadership of Ryan Andraos from Zulu Rock (deputy reserve manager), have been equipped with the necessary training and skills prior to undertaking the five-year project. “We depend on biodiversity for water, food, wood, clean air, medicine and much more, which is why it’s vitally important that we protect this resource,” said Andraos.

Alien plants may have a negative effect on water resources and South Africa is a water scarce country, with drought conditions already wreaking havoc in various parts of the country and renewing efforts to use water sustainably. An estimated 3 million m3 of water is lost in this area due to invasive plants. The aim of clearing alien vegetation is to turn this part of Babanango into a secure catchment area. This will also improve biodiversity and in time make the land more productive.

Although the local team has only recently started work on removing the identified plants, they have already made significant progress and demonstrated the community’s commitment to conservation in the Babanango region,” Andraos said.

Zulu Rock Game Ranch is situated in a place of extraordinary biodiversity, which lends itself to the reintroduction of game, including buffalo and other animals in the so-called ‘Big Five’, which is on the cards this year. It also forms part of the Umfolozi biodiversity economy node development, linked, private protected areas, private game farms and communal land, with the potential to create a conservation area of 20 000ha.

“We are taking our role very seriously to ensure the local community also reap the benefits that will come with the refurbishment of lodges like Zulu Rock and Babanango Outdoor Education in the area. Our goal is to play a key role in securing much-needed local employment for the community by creating long-term jobs in hospitality, conservation and management,” said van Staden.

The alien-vegetation removal programme has provided opportunities to upskill people from the community on plant identification and other useful skills such as chainsaw use, health and safety, personal finance, site management, peer education and field safety and survival skills, van Staden explained. “The establishment of this locally based alien plant removal team is a great example of how important it is for private businesses and the local community to work together and be aligned in their objectives to successfully achieve a mutually beneficial situation for all parties,” said van Staden. – Zulu Rock