WRAP in South Africa: Working to preserve and regenerate nature


WRAP South Africa

Harriet Lamb, CEO of WRAP, discusses her recent trip to South Africa and the innovative work WRAP is doing in the region.

If you are lucky enough to visit the mountains of the Western Cape, you’ll discover that as well as supplying 97% of the water to the people of the Cape, including Cape Town city, the area hosts more plant species than the whole of England.

Source: WRAP.

Unique flora flourish, including the iconic flaming red fynbos, and the less famous, endemic Twee River Red Fin – which is endangered, hit by preying invasive species and the toll of spreading orchards taking water for irrigation and using chemicals.

The Twee River Red Fin is the most threatened freshwater fish in South Africa. This is one reason why non-governmental organisations and companies have come together to address the Western Cape key water source area, linking hard data and good science, with funding and support to committed landowners.

Throughout winter in the UK, the Western Cape fills our shopping baskets with apples, pears and grapes from the vast, semi-arid region. It’s creating badly needed jobs and exports for the hard-pressed South African economy. But it is also putting pressure on the landscape and water sources, degrading the ecosystems.

That’s why WRAP, with our partner WWF South Africa, is bringing together water users to implement innovative and widescale changes to regenerate rivers and restore nature – at a water catchment level.

Water illustrates perfectly why we need collective action to address our top environmental concerns: water is only ever as good as the worst user. So, bringing retailers, suppliers and farmers together behind collective action is key.

In the Western Cape, some farmers are even collaborating to designate huge stretches of land as protected nature reserves. Others are focusing on clearing thirsty invasive tree species to prioritise replanting native shrubs, which is already showing benefits in the volumes of water that can be returned to nature.

Small, circular businesses can provide long-term sustainable solutions – such as chopping the cleared invasive branches into biochar to be used by local farmers, supporting soil health, creating jobs, increasing water efficiency, and increasing carbon storage… to name a few immediate benefits!

They could also locally produce mulch and cover crops being used to protect the soil, retaining more moisture and nutrients for longer and reducing irrigation.

Source: WRAP.

Another example is the small-scale circular business model empowering women who propagate native plants to restore riverbanks when the invasive trees have been clearedWith government involved too, this demonstrates the power of collaboration in driving systemic changes.

However, it’s also a daunting challenge. On a recent visit, I stood humbled before the gaping panorama of jagged hill-tops stretching into the distance and felt the scale of the task before us to restore whole water catchment areas.

We need more investment and strategic engagement from the entire supply chain if we are going to scale up these success stories and achieve our challenging #Courtauld2030 target to source at least 50% of our fresh food and drink from areas with sustainable water management at a catchment level.

It will be no mean feat. But to address the climate crisis and make the circular economy the mainstream economy – we need ambition on this daunting scale. And people are up for it.

Another water hot spot surrounds the sparkling Lake Naivasha, Kenya where, again with WWF, we’re bringing together water users and stakeholders across the catchment to reduce over-abstraction and minimise pollution from poor waste-water management on flower farms.

Lake Naivasha attracts tourists gasping at the idle hippos and majestic sea eagles as well as a raft of commercial flower farms supplying our retailers, and smallholder farmers growing sugar-snaps and other small vegetables now trialling regenerative agriculture including afforestation. 

Source: WRAP.

On our visit, we saw one large farm using sophisticated artificial wetlands to treat wastewater and reduce pollution, using their now-cleaned water back on the farm to irrigate the flowers.

Meanwhile, communities across the catchment have formed Water Resources Users Associations and are being trained in how to conduct citizen science River Health Assessments in a region where data and monitoring have been a challenge.

This empowers local communities to engage in water stewardship and ensures there is adequate and consistent data to track ecosystem health and better manage the rivers and Lake Naivasha.

Under the boiling sun, a group of villagers gathered by the local stream. Guided by their leader – whom they teased as “The Prof” – they proudly showed us how they tested the Ph levels, checked insect life and a host of other attributes, and input the results into an App each month. 

Sometimes, they detect a problem and can act themselves as when they detect a leak from a local factory. In other cases, their data enables the Government to intervene. 

Source: WRAP.

These are just two of the eight projects underway overseas and in the UK with retailers and companies committed to WRAP’s Courtauld 2030 programmeThe full list includes another 12 hotspots where the UK food and drink sector needs to fulfil its obligation to protect landscapes on which their businesses depend.

We need more funding and strategic support if we’re going to drive systemic change and really regenerate catchments. A circular economy must also regenerate nature and preserve water – for nature and people in this country and overseas: that too must be at the heart of the just transition.

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