The Working for Ecosystems (WFE) programme, facilitated by WESSA, is a poverty relief/sustainable development programme aimed at providing job opportunities to communities while improving the natural environment. This KwaZulu-Natal project, which aims to restore ecological integrity and resilience of ecosystems through control and eradication of invasive alien plants (IAPs), has been an acclaimed success. IAP populations in existing project areas have already been significantly reduced. The programme is required to maintain the existing follow-up control practices in areas previously cleared, as well as roll out to other pre-determined sites. Numerous jobs have been created and training provided.
eThekwini Municipality Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department provides guidance regarding management site selection. This is usually in high priority biodiversity areas, predominantly in rural areas that are of conservation significance. Sites where management interventions currently take place include the following: Ntshongweni, Drummond, Paradise Valley Nature Reserve, Roosefontein Nature Reserve, Ngonweni and Hullets Bush.
The WFE programme is implemented in environmentally sensitive areas; therefore environmental best practice guidelines are followed in order to reduce any negative impacts to indigenous fauna and flora. Rapid response and regular follow-up allow the teams to ensure that emerging weeds are kept to a minimum and that areas cleared of invasive alien plant species can quickly recover to their natural state.
Programme workers attend a basic three-day IAP training course presented by WESSA. This training specialises in identification of IAPs, methods of eradication, as well as the importance of biodiversity and removal of IAPs. The course has both a theoretical component (taught in either English or isiZulu) and a practical component that involves in-field training on identification and removal of IAPs.
The programme has a strong sustainable development focus and partners with the Small Enterprise Development Association (SEDA) which aims to equip individuals that aspire to owning a business, with the skills required for registration and operation as cooperatives (co-ops) in these communities. Businesses established within the WFE programme are encouraged to contract back to the programme, as they then receive additional support and supervision from WESSA.
The Working for Ecosystems Programme plays a critical and innovative role in increasing the functionality of ecosystem goods and services, improving the lives of the local communities, and helping them adapt to inevitable climate change impacts. The programme is in its seventh year of implementation, and the benefits to local communities continue to grow.