The Ntsubane Forest Complex is a belt of indigenous forest, broadly categorised as Scarp Forest, but with Montane, Coastal Lowland and Dune Forest characteristics, covering a land mass of approximately 4 661 hectares of the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism between Port St Johns and Mbotyi on the Wild Coast of South Africa. Its geographical position locates it in the critical ecosystems highlighted in the Maputoland-Pondoland-Albany corridor, which is internationally recognised for its biodiversity and identified as a conservation priority. Funding from the Critical Eco-systems Partnership Fund (CEPF) was secured by WESSA and in April 2012 the Collaborative Approach to Ntsubane Forest Complex Management & Sustainable Livelihoods project was launched.
There is increasing socio-ecological pressure on the forest resource as a result of expanding communities and their timber related needs, an increase in the prevalence of invasive alien plants, as well as understory damage and impact from livestock. Forest management challenges have further contributed to forest loss through deforestation and degradation. The Ntsubane Project aims to slow forest decline and empower forest communities for improved natural resource management.
Forty-eight beneficiaries were selected for training for the eradication of invasive alien plants (IAP) and forest restoration practices at four pilot sites around the forest complex. The teams worked according to the Community Works Programme (CWP) model of eight days a month, allowing alternative livelihood practices to be pursued by beneficiaries. Further village based training addressed alternative livelihoods, land use practices and community based natural resource management (CBNRM).
Formal integration of the beneficiaries into the Community Works Programme was achieved by the end of the one-year funding period and coincided with WESSA securing a follow-on CEPF grant for the expansion of the work in the forest complex. The project, Strengthening Land Use Practices, Management and Local Economic Opportunities in the Ntsubane Forest Complex (Wild Coast), involves WESSA working in collaboration with CWP, Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA), traditional leaders and the communities of fifteen forest villages, as well as five schools, to elevate conservation efforts of forest resources.
Through this collaboration, the beneficiaries will be employed by the CWP to undertake further IAP eradication and forest restoration of indigenous forest sites which have been verified by DAFF. The site management plans have been developed by WESSA to directly achieve conservation outcomes.
Running parallel to the IAP and restoration projects is the development of local economic opportunities for forest user communities. Over 50 crafters are involved in a one-year product development and increased craft exposure project funded by the Blue Fund. This will enable improved sustainability of crafter livelihoods while simultaneously aligning to conservation principles of good practice as it relates to forest resource use. The school beneficiaries of the project will be involved in biodiversity education and learning projects which will include piloting indigenous tree nurseries for future restoration of degraded forest sites.