Sustainable Communities
Traditional Pondo village in the Eastern Cape. © CI/Photo by Keith Lawrence
Traditional Pondo village in the Eastern Cape.
© CI/Photo by Keith Lawrence

South Africa is a land of contrasts. Our spectacular natural biodiversity is the backdrop for a population devastated by poverty, HIV/AIDS, poor education, and dwindling resources. To address some of these key issues the Sustainable Communities project was developed.

Sustainable Communities, which developed off the back of and now incorporates the Indigenous Trees for Life Programme, has rapidly grown into a world-class sustainable development programme. Through this programme Wildlands is improving people's livelihoods, educating people about the environment, and developing entrepreneurial skills with the aim of building vibrant, healthy, sustainable communities that contribute to the green economy and conserve South Africa's unique forest habitat.

Orphans and other vulnerable communities are identified and encouraged to grow indigenous trees at their homesteads. In some communities they are also encouraged to collect recyclable waste. On a regular basis, the trees and waste are collected - the trees for replaniting in community greening and reforestation projects and the waste for recycling. Each treepreneur or wastepreneur is given a credit bote to the value of the trees or waste collected. This enables them to attend 'Green Future Stores' where they can trade items to the value of their trees or waste.

This simple barter system offers a range of livelihoods goods, such as food, building materials and wheelbarrows, educational support such as school uniforms, stationery, and payment of school and tertiary education fees including drivers' licences, and a growing range of sustainable use goods such as bicycles, JoJo water tanks, and solar water heaters.

Sustainable Communities Programme

A growing success story, Sustainable Communities now sees over 3,500 treepreneurs grow over 300,000 trees every year. There are Sustainable Communities projects in 23 communities around KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape. In 2009/2010 there were 3567 treepreneurs registered with the programme. Of those, 2,365 bartered 380,294 trees to the value of R1.8 million. Reforestation sites include Buffelsdraai Landfill Site outsided Durban, Ongoye Forest Reserve, and the Mkuzi Floodplain.

Wildlands' Sustainable Communities Programme now employs more than 75 facilitators who mentor 3,500 treepreneurs. Wildlands is investing in these dedicated staff to build their capacity in basic entrepreneurial skills and environmental knowledge. Facilitators are being trained in plant propagation, first aid, and enterprise development. Individuals that express a keen interest and show ingenuity and drive (i.e. the 'super growers', 'super collectors', and exceptional facilitators) will be incubated into emerging entrepreneurs through intensive nurturing, skills development, enterprise training, and access to capital and entrepreneurial opportunities in keeping with building a green economy.

Environmental Education Rewards

Environmental trips are given as a reward for the number of trees grown or amount of waste collected. 'Super growers' and 'super collectors' are incubated into emerging green entrepreneurs. The environmental education rewards programme is structured around field trips for treepreneurs with the aim of nurturing a respect for the environment. As they meet certain growing targets they qualify for environmental experiences that develop a greater understanding, love and appreciation for their natural heritage.

'Treepreneurs' who have grown 100 trees are taken on a day trip to an environmental centre. 250 trees earns an overnight stay and 500 trees earns them a wilderness trail experience.

Wildlands Recycling

At least 70-80 percent of household waste is recyclable and yet much of this ends up in landfills. In February 2010, Wildlands decided it was time to stop preaching and start practicing recycling. Together with the waste collected by 'wastepreneurs', Wildlands has partnered with the African Conservation Trust to collect recyclables from schools, businesses, and housing estates in the Midlands, Mooi River, Greytown, and the Richmond areas.

Emerging Recycling Entrepeneurs sort the waste at a central depot and then sell the various streams on for recycling. Wildlands collects white paper, mixed paper, cardboard, newspaper, plastic, glass, cans, and tetrapak.

In the first 6 months of the project, Wildlands collected more the 677,000 kgs of recycling from 630 wastepreneurs, 37 schools, and 100 businesses.


Andrew Whitley
Wildlands Conservation Trust
Tel: +27(0)33 343-6380
Fax: +27(0)33 343-1976