UN cash to protect SA fynbos

2012-06-21 13:10

Cape Town - The United Nations Development Programme through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Special Climate Change Fund has donated $3.5m to South Africa to help with fire management in the fynbos biome.

The money will help the department of environmental affairs to manage fires in highly sensitive fynbos areas over a three year period.

"The Fynbos Fire Project is therefore aimed to develop sustainable interventions to radically inform the approach to managing wild fires and to implement strategies critical to good practice," Dr Christo Marais, natural resource manager in the department of environmental affairs told News24.

Negotiators at the UN-sponsored Rio+20 climate conference in Brazil are engaged in discussions to map the way forward for a global climate pact.

It is expected that climate change will make bigger environment impacts, particularly on sensitive ecosystems and the UN agency sees this programme as a way to address climate change adaptation.


SA has seven main biomes in the country but the fynbos in the Western Cape is unique in the world. Fire management is critical to the biome because the vegetation requires small, infrequent fire to assist with germination, but a massive fire, especially in the wrong season, is devastating.

The department of environmental affairs runs the Working for Water and Working for Fire programmes and Marias said that a lot of work needs to be done to change attitudes to fire management.

"Through these two programmes the South African government is investing billions of rand in natural resource management and the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystems services," he said.

The allocation for these programmes is R1.093bn for water and R383m for fire in the current financial year, but Marais said that while biomes of the Karoo were not susceptible to fire, there have been reports of fires, following a particularly wet season.

"The biomes that are not fire prone are the two Karoo biomes, the Thicket biome and the Forest biome. It could be disastrous if we have an encroachment of certain species into the Karoo that could lead to fires in the Karoo."

The GEF supports technology transfer of fire management in developing countries and the programme will seek to address the training and assistance needs of fire protection agencies (FPAs).

Private sector

"There are a huge number of FPAs registered, but what my colleagues are saying to me is that these FPAs aren't always functional as they should be and the Fynbos Project is going to look at rationalising the configuration of government protocols for these FPAs," said Marais.

He added that the buy-in of the private sector was important to the management of fynbos. Many species are found of private farms and some farmers have been actively reducing the number of invasive alien plants on their properties.

"If integrated fire management for this country is going to work, it's only going to work with the intense involvement of the private sector," he said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter