The Draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in South Africa has been published by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, for public comment.

The call for submissions was published in Government Gazette 46687 (Notice No. 2252) on 8 July 2022 in terms of the National Environment Management: Biodiversity Act.

Cabinet in June 2022 approved the draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity for public comment, emphasising that “South Africa’s biodiversity provides an important basis for economic growth and development, and is critical to people’s livelihoods”.

Despite having a range of biodiversity and sustainable use legislation and policies, biodiversity loss continues to threaten the health of ecosystems and survival of species, and results in negative impacts for livelihoods and the economy. Global change, habitat loss and degradation, invasive alien species, overharvesting, and illegal harvesting all threaten South Africa’s biodiversity.

Over two decades since democracy, the biodiversity sector remains substantially untransformed and there is inequality in access to benefits arising from biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. Furthermore, the sector has not reached its potential in terms of the contribution to the national economy and Growth Domestic Product (GDP). Biodiversity and its use is a catalytic engine of rural economies, and the value chains that emerge from these need to be fully realised.

The draft White Paper gives effect to the recommendations made by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLP) appointed in 2019 to review our current policies, legislation and practices on matters of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling.

The HLP recommendations provide a very clear way forward on how to address key sector challenges. The HLP consulted widely, including with various spheres of government, wildlife industry stakeholders, conservation and animal welfare NGOs, as well as traditional leaders, traditional healers, and communities adjacent to “big five” protected areas in North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The voices of these stakeholders have strong presence in their report and informed many of the HLP recommendations. The HLP highlighted the importance of transformation of the sector, with empowerment and capacitation of communities living with wildlife, and recognition of their traditions and culture, as practiced through the traditional leaders and traditional healers.

The HLP recommended the development of a White Paper for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity and indicted the need for a shift to an Africanised conservation approach, that embraces the diverse cultures, traditions, and knowledge systems in South Africa, and values such as Ubuntu. The HLP also emphasised the need for a more holistic approach to sustainable use, which ensures responsible and humane use of South Africa’s biodiversity, and the ending of poor and harmful practices, such as those associated with the captive lion industry. Importantly, a White Paper should also ensure transformation, with access and beneficiation by communities adjacent to protected areas, as well as for previously disadvantaged individuals.

The Department has worked closely with SANBI, SANParks, and our partners in the provinces to craft the draft White Paper. The draft White Paper sets out a vision of “A prosperous nation, living in harmony with nature, where biodiversity is conserved for present and future generations, and secures equitable livelihoods and improved human well-being.”

To accomplish this, the mission is “To conserve South Africa’s biodiversity, and maintain and/or restore ecological integrity, connectivity, processes, and systems, with resulting ecosystem services providing transformative socio-economic development benefits to the nation, through justifiable, responsible, and ecologically sustainable, and socially equitable, use of components of biodiversity.” The outcome of this is encapsulated in the impact statement of “Thriving People and Nature.” The draft White Paper also sets out important principles which will guide future policy, legislation, and decision-making across the sector.

There is a need for us to do things differently! Through the White Paper, South Africa will adopt an enabling definition and understanding of biodiversity conservation that releases South Africa from the shackles of the past, and which emphasises the constitutional imperatives within the environmental right, but also which will improve the wellbeing of people consistent with Ubuntu.

Furthermore, the White Paper will reshape ecologically sustainable use of components of biodiversity, in a manner which forefronts the responsibilities incumbent on use, including ensuring species persistence and the ecological integrity of ecosystems. Social responsibilities are also emphasised, by ensuring that continued benefits to people are fair, equitable and meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations. Furthermore, in the case of animals, use must be humane and not compromise their well-being.

In addition, the White Paper proposes to adopt a philosophical framing of Ubuntu for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, emphasizing an African approach that is consistent with the traditions, culture, knowledge and aspirations of African people in terms of defining their wellbeing.

This will empower communities and traditional leaders and healers as influential and impactful leaders of the sector, and as equal and meaningful participants, as well as to ensure and enhance the spiritual and sacred contribution of nature to people, especially fore-fronting the close connection of African people with nature and the environment, and of living in harmony with nature.

The White Paper emphasises partnerships and adopting participatory and consensus approaches throughout the biodiversity sector, which will promote meaningful participation and influence of all stakeholders, with communal rather than individual outcomes.

These shifts will provide a clear understanding of the intent and aspirations of South Africa, in terms of promoting conservation in order to achieve protection of the environment for present and future generations, as well as securing ecologically sustainable use to promote justifiable economic and social development.

“The White Paper will be relevant to the historical, socio-economic, and environmental context of South Africa, and the aspirations and needs of the people: It is a New Deal to ensure people will not only be living in harmony with nature, but that both people and nature will thrive,” said Minister Creecy.

Source: Government of South Africa

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