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Environmental monitors win prestigious KAMOSO Award

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Terecia Kgohloane (left) and Miranda Rakoma capture environmental data on a GPS unit around Makhushane village

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Locations where K2C environmental monitors have been deployed - at various nature reserves, private game reserves and rural villages throughout the lowveld of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Red boxes indicate locations where monitors patrol rural villages and rangelands. Yellow boxes show where monitors work within protected areas. The two boxes with blue borders show the placement of the SAEON monitors.

On 26 November last year, the Environmental Monitors Programme won the Best National Project at the KAMOSO Awards.

The awards were launched in 2007 with the aim to reward national, provincial and local government as well as public bodies that excel in implementing the National Government's Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).

“We should take pride in the contribution we make in changing the lives of our people, while equally preserving our natural resources.” - Pitso Mojapelo, DEA

The EPWP has created several initiatives that aim to improve the management of natural resources in South Africa. These generally involve labour-intensive operations to implement desired management outcomes, modelled along the lines of the well-known Working for Water Programme.

In congratulating the winners, Pitso Mojapelo, Deputy Director of National Programmes of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) said: “We should take pride in the contribution we make in changing the lives of our people, while equally preserving our natural resources.”

Monitoring the state of our natural resources

SAEON’s Ndlovu Node is participating in the EPWP’s Environmental Monitors Programme, which aims to monitor the state of our natural resources, and contribute to the more scientifically orientated objectives of organisations like SAEON.

Environmental monitors are unskilled workers recruited from previously disadvantaged communities, who are trained to record observations on key environmental changes in the area where they live. Their observations are recorded on hand-held GPS units, and the data is then brought together for archiving, analysis and distribution - to both managers of natural resources and the environmental science community.

The programme’s data collection platform was piloted as part of the collaboration between SAEON and the French Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), in which the node’s Dr Dave Thompson was a principal participant. The environmental monitors also received their initial training in using the handheld GPS units from SAEON and CIRAD staff members and students.

Since July 2013, the SAEON Ndlovu Node has employed six environmental monitors who form part of a team of 86 monitors deployed throughout the Kruger-to-Canyons (K2C) Biosphere Region. SAEON Ndlovu staff members Dr Tony Swemmer and Rob Taylor have been involved in the design of the data collection protocol and software used by most of these monitors, and the Node is hosting one of five data collators who are responsible for downloading and collating data from them.

Monitors have been deployed both in protected areas and rural areas (see map). In the case of the latter, monitors were recruited from villages where they live, and simply walk from home to patrol the surrounding rural rangelands daily, resulting in a highly cost-effective means of monitoring areas that are difficult to access (both physically and culturally) for most environmental scientists.

Themes

Data is collected according to five themes, with the exact variables recorded by each monitor customised according to the land use and biophysical environment where they work. The five themes, each encompassing a range of scientific questions about major environmental changes occurring in the region, are:

  • protected areas management (focused on data required to manage protected areas more efficiently);
  • rangeland monitoring (focused on the state of natural resources and biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems);
  • freshwater monitoring (focused on the water quality and biodiversity of surface water resources);
  • environmental health (focused on disease and other factors affecting the health of people and animals); and
  • community engagement (focused on socio-economic trends in rural communities).

Host institutions

To date, the project has created successful collaboration between various institutions in the region as well as having created 272 jobs to date. SAEON is one of ten host institutions who have employed environmental monitors within the Kruger-to-Canyons Biosphere Region, all through a partnership with South African National Parks (SANParks), who is implementing the programme as one of the Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programmes of DEA.

The other host institutions are Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, private nature reserves (the Timbavati, Balule and Sabie Sands), the Southern African Wildlife College, the Agricultural Research Council, the Universities of Pretoria and Witwatersrand and the K2C Biosphere Reserve (a non-profit organisation that is developing the UNESCO K2C Biosphere Region).

The project has also embarked on an impact study in the region.

* At the Environmental Monitors Weekend at Blyde Adventure Camp towards the end of last year, the excellent performances of the K2C Heroes were recognised. Ronny Sekgodi from SAEON received an award for his diligence in river monitoring.

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