Protected areas – reducing climate change impacts and supporting livelihoods

15 July 2014 | Article

The reality of climate change and the risks it poses to communities and ecosystems is increasingly being felt across Africa, with one of the greatest risks being desertification.

In some regions, authorities are taking measures to counteract this and are recognising the value of protected areas to nature and the people who depend on it.

The southern part of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa has been extensively used for agriculture for more than 150 years. This region is dominated by the Albany Thicket Biome which has an exceptionally high diversity of species but has been degraded by overgrazing by domestic livestock.

Without measures to reverse the decline, land degradation threatens both ecosystem stability and the livelihoods of thousands of people through reduced agricultural productivity. A decline in the availability of wood, fruit and medicines could lead to financial loss of approximately US$150 per household per year.

In 2007 the Department of Environmental Affairs stepped in and began a project to restore land within the Fish River Nature Reserve, Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park - areas which were becoming desert.

The Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project used a succulent tree species dominant in the Albany Thicket as an ecosystem ‘engineer’ to help restore ecosystem function. The restoration work ran from 2007 to 2013, generating 3,754 jobs in the local community.

Vegetation cover has increased along with the diversity of plant species, soil erosion has reduced and the land can better absorb water. There are also more options for people who live off the land.

This example is taken from the paper Contribution of protected areas in mitigation against potential impacts of climate change and livelihoods in the Albany Thicket, South Africa.