Southern Africa's Species Get New Lease on Life
– Local groups working to conserve the Succulent Karoo's biodiversity will receive much-needed assistance through $8 million in grants from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). One of the world's most urgent conservation priorities, this desert in southern Africa boasts the richest variety of succulent plants on Earth, as well as high reptile and invertebrate diversity.
Stretching across southwestern South Africa into southern Namibia, the Succulent Karoo is the only desert on Earth recognized as a biodiversity hotspot-one of 25 highly threatened regions where 60 percent of terrestrial species diversity is found on only 1.4 percent of the Earth's surface. Besides containing an extraordinary wealth of natural resources, nearly one-third of the Succulent Karoo's floral species are found nowhere else.
"The Succulent Karoo's levels of plant diversity and unique species rival those of rain forests yet its biodiversity is decreasing at an alarming rate," said Jorgen Thomsen, CEPF executive director and Conservation International senior vice president. "The time to act is now. Our investment will empower and enable local people to get involved in biodiversity conservation and ensure benefits for future generations."
CEPF aims to invest at least $150 million in Earth's biologically richest yet most threatened areas. It is a joint initiative of Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the World Bank and the Japanese government. In the Succulent Karoo, the partnership will provide the $8 million (approximately R64 million and N$64 million) in grants to nongovernmental organizations, community groups and private sector partners.
"This is tremendous news for biodiversity conservation in Africa," said Brian Huntley, the chief executive officer for the National Botanical Institute in South Africa. "Long neglected, the Succulent Karoo will now enjoy the urgent support and action that it deserves as a globally important hotspot."
The Succulent Karoo is under extreme pressure from human activities, particularly livestock overgrazing, agricultural expansion and mining. Goat, sheep, ostrich and small game ranching dominate about 90 percent of the land. Although stock limits and grazing plans exist for much of the region, signs of overgrazing are evident across much of the landscape. The negative environmental impacts of mining for diamonds along the coast and river flood plains have severely altered the coastline.
CEPF grants will focus on the key areas of Sperrgebiet, Bushmanland Inselbergs, Central Namaqualand Coast, Namaqualand Uplands, Knersvlakte, Hantam-Roggeveld and Central Little Karoo. The partnership's strategy for this region includes awarding grants to expand protected areas and engage specific land users such as the agricultural sector, mining companies and communal authorities to help meet conservation objectives identified by the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Planning (SKEP) process.
SKEP involved more than 60 scientific experts and 400 local stakeholders representing government, academia, nongovernmental organizations, private sector interests and local communities. Conservation International's Southern Africa Hotspots Program facilitated the yearlong participative process as part of CEPF preparations to expand to the hotspot. The project team included the Botanical Society of South Africa, Eco-Africa Environmental Consultants, the Institute for Plant Conservation and the National Botanical Institute as coordinating organizations.
Since CEPF was launched in August 2000, the Fund has approved nearly $21 million in grants to support more than 100 projects in hotspots in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Among these hotspots is the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa, where CEPF has already approved $3 million in grants to support more than a dozen conservation projects.
The CEPF strategy is to direct funds for projects at the local grassroots level with the aim of building alliances among different groups and interests for greater conservation impact. The partnership provides mostly small to medium-sized grants to civil society as an often overlooked but vital partner in conservation efforts.
Additional information, images, maps and interviews available upon request.
For more information about CEPF, visit the CEPF Web site, www.cepf.net.