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					SPEECH FOR THE LAUNCH OF GRASSLANDS
PROGRAM      CELEBRATING      INTERNATIONAL
BIODIVERSITYDAY    PREPARED      FOR    THE
HONOURABLE      DEPUTY      MINISTER     OF
ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM, MS
REJOICE MABUDAFHASI: 22 May 2008


MECs for Environment
Your Worship, the Executive Mayor of West Rand
District Municipality, Alderman Faith Matshikiza
The Resident Representative of the United Nations
Development Programme in South Africa
Acting DG of Environmental Affairs and Tourism,
Ms Nosipho Jezile
CEOs of conservation agencies
Senior officials and representatives of partner
organizations    implementing     the    Grasslands
Programme
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen



1. Introduction
Conservationists throughout the world
are extremely concerned that the planet
is facing the worst spate of species
extinction and loss of biodiversity.

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International    scientists   estimate   that
three species vanish every hour as a
result of human activities that cause
climate change, pollution and loss of
habitat. Indeed, we are all very worried
that human activities have caused more
rapid changes in biodiversity in the last
50 years than in any other time in
human history.


It   is   also    becoming      clear    that
consumption of natural resources has
reached unsustainable levels and human
beings are destroying biodiversity which
is the foundation of life. No nation can
escape the impact of biodiversity loss
because this will result in a situation
where millions of people face a bleak
future of an unprecedented increase in
food shortage.

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Without a change in behaviour, it would
be impossible to feed 9 billion people
throughout        the    world.     This     is    no
doomsday prophecy as we are already
confronted with a surge in food prices
driven by a booming demand for natural
resources required to meet the needs of
increasing        human        populations        and
economic growth.


It is against this background that our
department        and      stakeholders           have
deemed       it    fit    to      celebrate        the
International Day for Biodiversity using
the theme “Biodiversity and Agriculture”
announced         by     the    United     Nations
Convention of Biological Diversity to
which South Africa is a party.



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Our celebrations started in Hoedspruit
on 17 May where we showcased the
Kruger to Canyons Biosphere reserve as
an    area     with    immense          value     for
biodiversity    and     agriculture        to    our
communities.


Grasslands were identified as one of the
fragile biomes that should be protected
not only in this biosphere reserve but in
all   areas     throughout       the       country.
Therefore,     this     launch     is      a    very
important      event     for     raising       public
awareness       on     the     conservation        of
grasslands for the benefit of the current
and future generations.




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2.   Socio-economic               benefits     from
grasslands
Grasslands are an important resource
which is part of our life support system.
A variety of commercial and subsistence
livestock    depend        on     grasslands     for
grazing and generating profits to their
owners.          Human beings and animals
also benefit from using naturally purified
water     made      possible       by   grasslands
which trap dirt and release clean water.


Women       in    the     rural    areas     harvest
different forms of grass and turn it into
various hand-made crafts and products
which     they     trade     commercially       and
generate         income     to     support     their
households.




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There      is   no   doubt   that   grasslands
possess huge economic potential that
can contribute to poverty eradication
and job creation if utilized sustainably.


Grasslands play an important role in
providing us with many new products
over the years, from new food crops that
will help to improve food security, to
new medicines that will cure us when we
are ill.     Items on our breakfast menu
today       were     carefully   selected    to
showcase the agricultural products that
come off the grasslands biome.
The Green Choice team is looking for
market opportunities, through retailers,
restaurants and caterers, to support
food       production    systems    that    are
environmentally sound, socially just and
economically viable.

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And there are already a large number of
biodiversity-friendly food products being
produced, or in the pipeline – from
honey,    to    rooibos     tea,   to    seafood,
potatoes and wine.


I hope you enjoyed some of these
products and, as consumers who are
concerned about the environment; you
will opt for products that are ‘green’ or
produced with minimal damage to the
environment.


3.   Agriculture          and      sustainable
development
Today,      humanity      faces     a     serious
challenge      as    much    of    the    earth’s
biodiversity is at risk. The areas that are
home     to    the   greatest      numbers     of
threatened species are also home to

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large numbers of rural people, many of
whom     are        desperately    poor     and
dependent      on    their   environment     for
livelihoods.        Ultimately      ecological
disturbances in these areas may have
severe   repercussions        on   the    socio-
economic status of communities.


Local agriculture, as the main provider
of food and livelihoods to people, must
expand to meet rapidly growing world
demand, keep up with the growing
population whilst preventing hunger. Yet
agriculture is also a mayor contributor to
destruction of valuable habitats.
Research shows that agriculture remains
the economic base for the majority of
the poor in Africa and accounts for about
33% of Africa’s GDP and for the bulk of
employment.

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Most agricultural production comes from
small-scale farmers, with women playing
an extremely important role. Agricultural
production,    distribution      and   sales
directly affect food security and the
nutritional    status     of      household
members.


Importantly,      the         socio-economic
contribution of agriculture can only be
maintained if biodiversity is conserved.
In pursuit of this noble goal, we must
promote projects that seek to harness
the existing entrepreneurial energy in
rural communities through promoting
balanced approaches to environmental
management          and          sustainable
development.




                                           9
Such projects should take into account
the    historical     reality    that    African
agriculture was premised on indigenous
practices and ecological knowledge of
small-scale farmers. This has been part
of    our   heritage      acquired       through
centuries   of      adaptation   to     changing
environmental conditions.


Amongst          other     strategies,         our
communities utilized rotational farming
and    interspersed      different    plants    to
enrich the soil and deter pests from food
crops. We all know that subsistence
farmers leave areas unplanted around
the fields or alongside streams where
naturally-occurring species can grow.




                                                10
In many of these communities farmers
use     absolutely      no     pesticides    or
fertilizers. Composted kraal manure is all
they need to enrich the soil. In essence,
this    is    the    African   heritage     and
knowledge       which    we    must    revive,
promote and preserve for generations to
come.




Research      also    shows     that   cultural
practices     and    indigenous    knowledge
have been disrupted such that today’s
agriculture can hardly be defined as
sustainable. Indigenous Knowledge (IK)
and related social and cultural practices
are therefore very important tools for
agriculture           and          sustainable
development.



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3. Partnerships and co-operation for
the conservation grasslands
Partnerships at international, national
and local levels are key to our success in
conserving biodiversity and assist us to
meet   important     international   targets.
Natural habitat stretches across human-
made       borders     and      international
cooperation and coordination is required
for    collective    protection      of   the
environment.


In an endeavor to put this into practice,
the South African government has been
instrumental in establishing the Trans-
Frontier   Conservation      Areas   (TFCAs)
with    Lesotho,     Namibia,     Botswana,
Swaziland,           Zimbambwe            and
Mozambique.



                                            12
Amongst      others,     the   agreements
entered into with these neighbouring
states promote the protection of our
beautiful grasslands.


Grasslands add to the attractiveness of
our countries and can be seen daily
along the highways, in patches in our
cities, in our forests, in our communal
lands, on our farms, and in our nature
reserves. Grasslands stretch across the
entire Southern African landscape and
are one of the main attractions for
tourists visiting our countries.


The    Grasslands       Programme   is   a
partnership initiative between the South
African Botanical Institute, the United
Nations     Development        Programme
(UNDP) and the Global Environmental

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Facility which has been funded to the
tune of US$8.3 million to support the
conservation of grasslands and promote
sustainable agriculture.


I   would   like    to    acknowledge        and
welcome partnerships for the protection
of grasslands which have already been
introduced in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-
Natal as part of this programme. For
example, in the Wakkerstroom/Luneburg
area in Mpumalanga, the Grasslands
Programme and its partners, the WWF
and the Botanical Society, is working
with   farmers     to    encourage        farming
practices   that    can     help     to     meet
conservation requirements.




                                               14
We also commend the demonstration of
passion to conserve our environment by
our rural communities.            Just to cite an
example, the Mabaso community north
of    Utrecht        in        KwaZulu-Natal       is
embarking on a biodiversity stewardship
initiative.


The    community           provided      land   and
partnered with WWF-SA, the Botanical
Society of South Africa and Ezemvelo
KZN       Wildlife        to     breed     critically
endangered       Wattled         Cranes    in    the
wetlands.     This initiative will also boost
tourism growth in this area as tourists
would like to visit a project of this
nature.




                                                   15
In order to sustain the benefits we
derive from the environment, we should
stop from being our own worst enemies.
Every year in the months of August and
September, we witness billowing flames
of   fire      destroying       our      grasslands,
vegetations       and    forestry,       killing   our
livestock and wildlife, destroying tourism
initiatives,         killing      people           and
condemning emerging communities to
poverty.


Footages of destructions beamed on our
televisions      are    unbearable        and      very
disturbing. Some fires are irresponsibly
started     by   human         beings,    especially
smokers        who      throw     away       burning
cigarettes butts.




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I would like to appeal to the public to
use fire responsibly as the consequences
of   negligence    are   too    ghastly   to
contemplate.
4. Conclusion
I would like to invite you all to bear
witness to the launch of the Grasslands
Programme today. Government is firmly
committed to this Programme and is
excited that it reaches out in partnership
to invite our friends and colleagues in all
levels   of    government   and   in   other
sectors to join forces to conserve South
Africa’s valuable grasslands.
As a sign of this commitment, I will sign
the Grasslands Declaration on behalf of
the Department of Environmental Affairs
and Tourism, and I would like to invite
all MECs present here today, to join me
in doing so.

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I will also be tabling this declaration at
MINMEC so that other MECs who could
not attend this event are afforded an
opportunity to sign it and pledge their
support for this program.


Through       their   signatures   to    this
Declaration, I will also seek the support
of my colleagues in the Departments of
Agriculture     and   Water    Affairs   and
Forestry who were unable to be present
here today.


Thank you




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