Sunday, October 16, 2011

Journal: First Days in the Baviaanskloof

The nursery for the rehabilitation the landscape of the Baviaanskloof.
Baviaanskloof Mountains.

We left the Living Lands office at eight in the morning to meet with the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB).  The board is a private entity representing the interests of the 250 or so farmers that use water from the Coega Dam, which comes from the Baviaanskloof area.  The Dam also supplies a large part of the city of Port Elizabeth with it's water.  The board has been contracted by the South African government’s Department of Environmental Affairs to oversee the land restoration taking place in the kloof.  This public/private partnership puts farmers who benefit from the water supply into a position to manage their water sustainably, which means that unlike many other irrigation boards in the world, they are actively involved in land restoration efforts.

Riennette Colsky is the board’s administrator, based in the town of Patensie, and she acknowledged that tree planting through community up-liftment schemes and restoring landscapes were not “normal” activities that came naturally to the board, but ones which they had come to realize were vital to the health of ecosystem that they depend on for water.  “It required a new understanding of our role” she says, standing in the green garden of the board’s offices.  “We had to change our mindset and develop a better understanding of how nature works and how we can work with it, and that is something that Living Lands helped us to do”.

After meeting Riennette for our video interview we filled up with fuel, our last for a few days. The clouds started together as the team, along with Marijn Zwinkels from the NGO Living Lands, headed into the Baviaanskloof.  Later in the morning we headed into the heart of the World Heritage Site where the water for the Koega dam comes from.  Johanna Swartz runs a small team of planters.  Unemployed for years, she got involved in the Working for Water Program as a tree planter, and now
runs her own business as a subcontractor, planting Spekboom trees from her own nursery.

Johanna Swartz's planting team near Cumbria planting the keystone species Spekboom

In a secluded corner of the kloof, over a pass on a rough road, we found Johanna planting spekboom, the keystone species of the sub tropical thicket.  She spoke to us at length about what this job has meant for her.  She is now able to educate her children, hire a car and even offer employment to other members of her community. Her team worked, stooped over the veld, planting the little bushy trees and then covering them with thorns to stop wildlife like the curly horned kudu from eating the young vulnerable saplings.

Here at the Rooihoek campsite the clouds have gathered ominously, but the rain is yet to come.  This has been a wet year for the first time in almost ten years, and signs of recent flooding are everywhere.  The sounds of the birds gathered near the river echo off the cliffs at last light.  There are no other visitors here, and the cost is minimal.  To drive through the Baviaanskloof and camp here we are paying thirty Rand each, about four dollars. Click the Rooihoek link to make a booking. Tourism, as we are hearing every day, can help restore the Bavianskloof.

Our cell phones are already out the of the signal area and we will be out of touch with the world for the next few days as we make our way to the western part of the kloof. 
The team camping at Rooihoek in the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site.

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