This draft interim paper was developed by a group of Cape Town based graduate botanists and zoologists. The paper has been prepared for the World Summit and if being circulated for comment and refinement. Comments can be addressed to [email protected].

The policy platform presents policy work in progress for purposes of information sharing and provoking further contributions. These are not official positions of civil society, although they are positions taken by groups in civil society after debate and discussion. They may, after further discussion, become part of a South African civil society position.


Draft interim position paper on the conservation of biological diversity, including biodiversity loss

2 May 2002


a) The analysis and policy suggestions put forward in this document are those of individuals of NGOs concerned with biodiversity, including biodiversity loss and extinction of species, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisations themselves.

b) The cross-cutting nature of biodiversity conservation is patent. In a sense, food security, the environmentally sound management of biotechnology, and the implications of the genetic modification of species falls within this broad field, but for the purposes of the WSSD this is dealt with in a separate position paper. So too are the conservation of marine living resources (dealt with in the paper on Oceans and Marine Conservation), the conservation of fresh water resources, climate change, etc.





Benefits of the conservation of biological diversity Direct benefits with respect to job creation / poverty alleviation



5.1 Land justifying conservation status
5.2 Economic incentives
5.3 Maintaining and restoring of ecosystem integrity
5.4 Combating impoverishment of the land's fertility
5.5 Monitoring and evaluation
5.6 Biological inventories and on-going research
5.7 Environmental education and community involvement
5.8 A programme to combat unauthorised harvesting of resources
5.9 State's stewardship of its Rights to South Africa's biodiversity

6. CAVEATS to government with respect to

(a) Negotiated Environmental Agreements
(b) inadequate monitoring capabilities
(c) unacceptable EIA implementation



Biological diversity comprises the total variety of organisms – plants, animals, fungi, microbes – and the diversity of communities, ecosystems and biomes found on earth.

Under ‘conservation of biological diversity’ we understand the prevention of extinction, and efforts to maintain the uniqueness of different species, habitats, ecosystems and biomes, with the objective to safeguard a healthy and balanced natural system on earth to sustain life and livelihoods on the planet.

We are a world in crisis. Should mankind continue to deplete its biological resources and poison and destroy its eco-systems, poverty of the majority of earth’s inhabitants will inexorably increase, and life on earth must eventually cease.

On the issue of the alleviation of poverty, the compilers of this paper wish to state their deep concern at the desperate plight of so many millions of earth’s inhabitants on account of abject want. In the course of this paper, consideration is given to opportunities for job creation and access to biological resources, which can in some measure address this grave problem.

As NGOs working in the field of the conservation of the natural environment, we believe, however, that our main contribution to sustainable development is the use of our capacities to promote environmental awareness-raising and education, environmental protection, and rehabilitation. This can only be achieved by sustained data gathering and research, and by hard work in the field by the many thousands of volunteers (the largely invisible and unsung ‘earthworm brigade’ that makes up the membership of environmental NGOs toiling away to preserve a viable, sustainable world) who give selflessly of their time and means.

In the course of this work, we believe in ongoing consultation and co-operation with all communities, with open information and skills sharing, as well as the sharing of responsibilities, to find a balance that will ensure sustainable, non-exploitative utilisation of the earth’s natural resources.

South Africa’s Biological resources

South Africa is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, with between 250 000 and one million species, many of which occur nowhere else. These species are distributed throughout a variety of ecosystems, ranging from deserts to sub-tropical forests, making South Africa a unique eco-tourism destination. These resources make an important contribution to our economy and to the livelihoods of millions of our people.

Sadly, our biodiversity is among the most threatened in the world, and we have the highest known concentrations of threatened plants and the highest extinction rate estimates. The conservation of our biodiversity affects all communities, from commercial farmers, to subsistence farmers, to indigenous peoples and their livelihoods, to the general economy of the country1. For these reasons, it is imperative that all efforts be made to conserve these resources.

There is also a spiritual need to conserve. We must not deprive future generations of their natural heritage.

Government’s commitments

The South African government signed and ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the RAMSAR Convention for the protection of Wetlands of International Importance. The National Environmental Management Act (Act 107 of 1998) is a progressive piece of legislation. The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for the Environment has endorsed the Kyoto Agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases. Government must now ratify this important treaty.

Other steps in the right direction are the twenty-year Cape Action Plan for the Environment (CAPE) programme designed to ensure that the Cape Floristic Region (one of the 6 Floristic Kingdoms in the world), and the adjacent coastal and marine environments, are effectively conserved. The substantial funding donated to the Maluti-Drakensberg and other transfrontier parks demonstrates the importance attached to the conservation of these unique natural resources.

But much remains to be done. To meet its obligation towards the conservation of biodiversity, central government must vote sufficient funds to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) for the employment of the necessary staff (both in numbers and skills) required for DEAT to fulfil its cardinal role of lead agent, to ensure an environment that can be sustained for present and future generations.

In particular, DEAT’s capabilities to fulfil its monitoring role must be substantially expanded.



  • Need for a Global Environmental Governance mechanism

The most pressing need for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to address is the matter of ensuring compliance with international environmental conventions. The governments of the world must create a mechanism for Global Environmental Governance that will be able to enforce conformity. If no such international monitoring body is created, a travesty is made of such agreements and treaties, and the world is set on a disastrous course of escalating degradation.

  • Relentless destruction of earth’s biodiversity resources

The pillaging of marine resources, the destruction of the earth’s ancient forests, etc - most of which at the hands of powerful multinational companies – must be curtailed.

With respect to natural forests, a first step must be making a clear legal distinction between the indigenous forests of the world and plantations. This is not the case at the moment. Whilst plantations can be harvested with impunity, it is of critical importance that indigenous forests be given special consideration and protection from degradation and deforestation.

  • Conservation objectives

The biodiversity of the planet is inextricably interlinked with and dependent upon the many other environmental factors addressed by the Rio Summit: the protection of the atmosphere, the combating of deforestation and of desertification and drought, the wise management of fragile eco-systems such as mountain areas, the protection of freshwater resources, the avoidance of pollution…

It is a blot on us humans and on our governments that the ideals of the Rio Summit have remained largely unfulfilled. The Johannesburg Summit must articulate concrete objectives with clear time frames, so that progress can be reported.

And there must be universal acceptance that the Precautionary Principle must underlie all decisions affecting the natural and social environment.


  • Benefits of a rich biodiversity

A buffer against degradation

The richer the biological diversity of an area, the better the buffering against impacts. The loss of diversity results in an escalation of degradation. The reality that must be faced is that in the long term, and generally speaking, the biological health of our planet will determine people’s future upon it.

  • Direct benefits of biodiversity conservation for poverty alleviation and job creation


The countries of sub-Saharan Africa are blessed with a rich biodiversity. This has an immense economic value in the tourism which it engenders, supporting the economy of these countries. The maintenance of healthy ecosystems is therefore an essential part of working towards a sustainable environment and the alleviation of poverty.


The unique biodiversity of South Africa, hardly surpassed anywhere else in such visible abundance, is the wellspring of our eco-tourism industry.

Since most of the high quality biodiversity is today found in rural areas, its maintenance and utilization for eco-tourism and associated industries hold great potential for the alleviating rural poverty.

Opportunities for job creation are opening up at different levels, amongst which are careers in Nature Conservation proper, at a range of levels, and opportunities in eco-tourism-related enterprises, such as craft markets. Employment opportunities also exist for communities adjoining nature reserves.

Another important benefit is the opportunity that is offered for careers in research in the natural sciences. However, unless jobs are retained in these fields, few students will be drawn to such a career.


Threats to earth’s biological diversity are real. Amongst the major threats, which should be countered at national and international level, include:

  • over-population by man and his ever-increasing needs

    - over-harvesting of natural resources (such as rampant deforestation)

    - habitat destruction by ill-advised structural or agricultural development, and poor land management

  • careless and abundant use of harmful pesticides which destroy non-targeted organisms essential for the functioning of ecological processes such as pollination and nutrient recycling
  • the introduction and spread of alien plant and animal species

    - genetic engineering which threatens the natural propagation of seed.

    - air pollution and ozone depletion, resulting wide-ranging degradation of habitats and loss of species, and related to this,

    - climate change.


5.1 Land justifying conservation status

(i) Conservation areas in public ownership

South Africa does not yet have representative samples of all the veld types, biomes and land forms of the country set aside for conservation, nor has the percentage of land, which by international standards should be given protected status, been set aside. Land under official conservation status (currently about 6%) should be increased to the recommended 10%.

In particular, veld types currently not protected (such as the Grasslands Biome) should be brought under protection of National Parks or Provincial Nature Reserves.

To identify the areas of the Cape Floristic kingdom not in conservation, it is recommended that the Jarman Report 3 serve as basis. Furthermore, all other reports and documentation of earlier research be consolidated into a long-term data series.

Management of conservation areas

    • Transparency and the need for Monitoring Committees

Transparent management of conservation areas is essential.

Each national park or provincial or local nature reserve should be served by an Advisory and Monitoring Committee of honorary members appointed independently of Park Management. Furthermore, Management Reports on the state and management of the park must be readily available to the public for scrutiny.

    • Expertise in the natural sciences

Top management must have adequate training and expertise in the natural sciences

Managers and professionals trained in scientific and technical skills, such as the undertaking of baseline surveys and inventories, and systematic sampling and evaluation of biological resources, are needed to conserve biological diversity and use biological resources sustainably.

    • Sufficient workforce

Staff numbers should not be so diminished that sound management becomes problematic.

This includes positions at all levels: rangers, administrators and conservation officers.

    • Work done by volunteers

Recognition should be given to the valuable work done by thousands of knowledgeable volunteers.

    • Commercialisation of amenities

It is important to acknowledge that National Parks and Nature Reserves must be credited with drawing the major proportion of tourists to the country, contributing much-needed money with concommitant job opportunities to every part of the country.

The recommendations of the Kumleben3 report must serve as guideline to the management of areas under conservation. These include the important caution that conservation areas such as national parks cannot be required to be financially self-sufficient.

The commercialisation of rest camps etc within national parks and nature reserves should be handled with the utmost circumspection, as should the practice of outsourcing of services and amenities and other activities, in order that the environmental integrity of the area and the overall conservation ethic are not thereby violated.

(ii) Private nature reserves

Land that is granted the status of private nature reserve should be subject to the requirement that that zoning status must be ensured in perpetuity, or at the least for a minimum period of 20 years.

The strategy of proclaiming a private nature reserve as a blind to obscure the real purpose of obtaining permission to have developments on agricultural land – which would otherwise be disallowed – is to be deplored. Any land subsequently de-proclaimed should be subject to punitive taxes.

(iii) Biosphere Reserves

The formation of Biosphere Reserves (with Core, Buffer and Transition zones) must be encouraged.

Serious caution: threats to the integrity of Buffer Zones place the concept of Biosphere reserves in jeopardy. The current intrusions of inappropriate commercial developments in Buffer Zones make a mockery of this concept. Development must only be tolerated in Transition Zones.

5.2 Economic incentives

Landowners who manage the land responsibly and practise sound conservation methods should be ‘rewarded’, through tax relief in proportion to their expenditure directly related to environmental conservation measures.

5.3 Maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity

The following measures are needed:

    • Protection of catchments and wetland areas

Water Catchment management must ensure that loss of vegetation and land degradation in catchments do not take place.

Legislation must halt the degradation of wetlands (large and small) by whatever means (filling–in, afforestation, draining, burning for early grazing, or building development), and provide effective legal remedies, in case of infringements. The Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) should be amended to include all wetlands in the list of environments for which an EIA is mandatory.

  • Protection of natural forests

A clear distinction needs to be made, in both national and international legislation and regulation, between forests and plantations. Indigenous forests and pocket forest must be accorded the protection they so sorely need.

A distinction should be made between areas with natural vegetation undisturbed by man, and transformed land planted or grazed for agricultural purposes.

  • Removal of alien species

The removal of alien species is a vital part of restoring and caring for ecosystems, without which species diversity will be lost.

Programmes like Working for Water should be encouraged as they not only benefit the land, but provide desperately needed jobs. Adequate training in proper methods of alien clearing is, however, often lacking. Thorough training is imperative.

5.4 Combating impoverishment of land fertility

Change is needed to stop the impoverishment of the land and the depletion of its fertility. One initiative by which the entire world population can make a contribution is to ensure that all organic resources from waste should be returned to the land in the form of compost and vermicompost, integrated planning between Waste Management bodies and Conservation and Agricultural bodies is a necessity.

5.5 Monitoring and Evaluation

Clear indicators or benchmarks must be identified and implemented to ensure sound management of resources. (The ISO 14000 standards require, in its Strategic Management System, that such indicators be identified and monitored.)

Environmental costs and benefits must be taken into consideration for sound decision-making.


5.6 Biological inventories and ongoing research

Existing data on biodiversity and its conservation should be collected and made accessible to all workers in the field, so that scarce resources are not wasted by unnecessary duplication, and research funds can be directed towards previously neglected areas and inadequately understood fields

Biological surveys of South Africa's fauna and flora should be undertaken and completed with urgency as species are being lost before they have even been recorded. This also implies that enough taxonomists be trained and employed to gather these baseline data, and that herbariums and museums must be given sufficient financial support.

5.7 Environmental education and community involvement

  • Environmental education of youth in schools

The inclusion of environmental education in the school syllabi is an important start. The acid test will, however, be the success with which the policy is implemented. In this regard, teachers and NGOs will play a critical role.

  • Community / adult environmental education

The work done by environmental NGOs that promote food gardens, urban agriculture and agroforestry is laudable. Such efforts must be supported.

  • Technical guidance to farmers

All farmers must receive guidance from agricultural and conservation extension officers so as to avoid environmentally unsustainable practices. In particular, new farmers must be given adequate advice and support.

5.8 A programme to combat illegal harvesting of resources

In the interests of the continued existence of certain floral and marine species, this phenomenon must be contained, both through community education and through policing. The principles of sustainable production and consumption must apply here.

With respect to medicinal plants, a concerted and extensive programme of the cultivation of such plants must be undertaken. This must be done in consultation with sangomas, to provide a sustainable resource. If this is not done, such species will eventually be harvested to extinction.

With respect to marine species such as abalone, we believe that the harvesting by smuggling groups must continue to be contained by adequate policing. At the same time there should be equity in the granting of fishing and harvesting permits, to ensure a fair livelihood to artisanal fishermen.

5.9 State’s stewardship of its biodiversity rights

Wise stewardship of the rights to our country’s indigenous species against exploitation by outside commercial ventures is essential.

The unfavourable conditions recently negotiated in the NBI / Ball Horticultural Agreement, must never be repeated.

Such applications by foreign parties wishing to obtain rights to develop and patent SA indigenous species should be widely advertised for comment, and the final decision on the application may not be taken by the institution that stands to benefit financially or otherwise by the deal. This can be achieved by appointing an independent ad hoc Botanical Species Protection Board competent botanists and lawyers with knowledge of environmental law to monitor the granting of permits to foreign parties. .


(a) Red data species

Threatened and rare species require effective protection for survival.

(b) Inadequate monitoring capabilities of DEAT and Provincial authorities

Monitoring of all aspects of the environment governed by regulation or legislation should be diligently undertaken with regularity.

(c) Procedures with respect to development applications

Injudicious land use changes have caused irreparable damage to our biodiversity.

Authorities at first, second and third tier must ensure the following:

(i) Decisions should not be taken before the completion of EIAs

It is a legal requirement in South Africa that decisions regarding development applications with potentially significant impacts on sensitive environments and biological diversity may not be taken before relevant EIAs are complete. Decision-making should be properly informed. This legal requirement should be fully complied with.

(ii) Public Participation processes should be adequate

All appropriate information must be made available to the public during public participation processes. Otherwise informed public participation is not possible, and the requirements of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) are not met.

(iii) Scoping Reports and EIAs should not be subject to selective reporting and inaccuracies

Strict standards of objectivity, transparency and correctness of data must be applied for Scoping and EIA reports by authorities entrusted with decision-making.

(d) Negotiated Environmental Agreements

The existence of Negotiated Environmental Agreements: (NEAs) may never prompt government to forego or postpone introducing stronger regulation or legislation. NEAs are no more than supplementary instruments designed to ensure additional environmental protection, over and above the existing legislative measures protecting the environment.

Regular monitoring whether such agreements are implemented to the letter and the spirit is required. Environmental Agreements must furthermore be undertaken in a fully transparent and inclusive manner, and must be underscored by thorough baseline studies to be able to measure changes

(e) ‘Free trade’ to be tempered by the Precautionary Principle

Treaties and Conventions designed to protect the environment must be conformed to, and must not be curtailed by considerations of free trade or profits.


Governments and the various Departments of the Environment play a pivotal role in the preservation of earth’s biodiversity; but, over and above that, a duty rests upon each human being who treads the earth to care, and to be involved, and to respect the living organisms that make existence on earth possible.

1 Rachel Wynberg 2002

2 Kumleben Report

3 Jarman Report

To comment or suggest changes contact [email protected]. Civil society organizations can also forward proposed policy positions and declarations to the same address.