Investing in Natural Capital and Economic Development: South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains

Investing in Natural Capital and Economic Development: South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains

James Blignaut, James Aronson, Myles Mander and Christo Marais

We describe a proposed large-scale restoration and land use management project planned for a portion of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. Some 250,000 ha of high-lying land in the Drakensberg range are a protected conservation area and also a World Heritage Site. Bordering this conservation enclave is another 250,000 ha of increasingly degraded land subject to a variety of competing land uses. Conflicting land use objectives could, in theory, be mitigated and reconciled by identifying and developing a market for the delivery of ecosystem services such as water use and quality, carbon sequestration, erosion and siltation reduction, combating desertification, and the promotion of biodiversity conservation.

The project we describe here can serve as an example of how long-term investment in the restoration of natural capital (RNC) will benefit both developed and developing countries, with payment for ecosystem services as a key way to finance the restoration work. International investments in the Drakensberg project are being sought in emerging markets for carbon, water, and biodiversity credits—the so-called "umbrella ecosystem services." Food, water, energy, and income security for local people, however, remain top priorities. We argue that this kind of RNC project is a way to simultaneously pursue the objectives of the global conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Desertification arising from the United Nations’ Rio Summit of 1992, and to help meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for alleviating poverty.

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