Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative launches its next conservation phase

The Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) officially launched the second phase of its operations on Thursday 7 June. The launch brought key partners in ABI together, from private land users and conservation groups to government departments. The launch took place in Baardskeerderbos.

Through ABI, partners involved in conserving the region’s biodiversity can work closely together to strengthen their collective efforts. The Agulhas Plain and broader Overberg face increasing threats to natural and agricultural land. The region has been labeled a biodiversity hotspot, with many rare, vulnerable and endangered plant and animal species foun here, but which has already been impacted by climate change, invasive alien plants and unsustainable use of resources, among other concerns.

ABI aims to counter these and other threats by offering a platform for partners to meet and take action. The partners will also see what economic development opportunities are offered by the special natural features of the area for responsible tourism. As a result of the work undertaken by the initiative during its first phase, between 2003 and 2010, ABI will be showcased as a leading project funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environment Facility (GEF) at the Rio +20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro later this month.

At the launch on Thursday, the partners agreed that ABI become a voluntary association, which any organisation or person striving towards ABI’s ideals can join. ABI will also now involve partners and projects across the entire Overberg area (it had focused on the Agulhas Plain during its first phase). Its new goal is: ‘To foster biodiversity through sustainable and integrated socio-cultural-, economic and environmental development in the Overberg’.

Partners agreed that ABI focus on five key themes. These are: integrated land-use planning; nature-based tourism; environmental education, skills and awareness; climate change adaptation and mitigation and energy for sustainable development. A new ABI Steering Committee was also elected. The committee is: Boet Schoeman (farmer), Rory Allardice (Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area coordinator), Hennis Germishuys (LandCare, Department of Agriculture: Western Cape), William Stafford (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) and Lesley Richardson (Flower Valley Conservation Trust).

According to Richardson, who also heads up the ABI Interim Coordination Unit, the launch allowed stakeholders to re-forge the partnerships built during the first phase, while introducing new partners. “ABI is strengthening and broadening its partnerships to consolidate those gains made during its first phase of work. So the ABI partnership is getting bigger, and will be working across a wider area. This offers exciting opportunities for those involved in the various themes under the ABI spotlight.”

Cornie Swart, President of Agri-Western Cape, said at the launch that the ABI partnership plays a key role in protecting the region’s threatened habitats. “What we have, we’re leaving for our children, and it depends on us whether we can save this, or whether it will go to waste.” He said ABI offers the platform for people and organisations to meet to tackle contentious issues. While an ABI Alien Clearing Working Group already exists, new working groups will be set up on renewable energy opportunities, environmental education and land-use planning.

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