Land and Nature
Isn’t it marvellous that we live in one of the most biodiverse countries in the world? We are the world’s third most biodiverse country, following Indonesia and Brazil.
Through the ages, human behaviour has always caused plant and animal extinctions, but right now we are experiencing losses of species and ecosystems at an alarming rate. The Global Footprint Network recently released its 2020 Living Planet Report which offers a startling analysis on the health of our planet and the impact of human activity. In addition, the World Economic Forum has listed Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as one of the top five risks in its 2020 Global Risks Report.
Just two weeks ago, the UN held its first ever Summit for Biodiversity as a call for “urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development”. Leaders were warned about the planetary emergency of biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation and climate change.
What’s driving this crisis? Unsustainable production + consumption and climate change. In our previous newsletter, we wrote about how our global population’s ‘resource budget’ is far exceeding what the earth can regenerate in a given year. We are simply consuming far more than our planet can sustain into the long-term, and our depleting resources are evidence of that.
Why do we need take care of our
land and nature?
Livelihoods — Water, food, medicine and jobs are all a product of land and nature. Our land and nature provide us with the natural resources to support our livelihoods.
More than half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature. Businesses are critically dependent on ‘ecosystem services’ — which are the basic services that make life possible for us — e.g. water, soil, plants and animals. Businesses would not be able to operate without them. In South Africa, our oceans, mountains, parks and wildlife all form the basis of our tourism sector, making up 4.6% of the country’s total employment.
The WEF’s ‘Future of Nature and Business’ report finds that
“nature-positive solutions can create $10.1-trillion in economic opportunity and counter growing biodiversity losses, while creating 393-million jobs by 2030”.
Human health — Our health and the health of our ecosystems cannot be separated. Plants are essential for both modern and traditional medicines. 25% of modern medicine ingredients are derived from rainforests and most traditional medicine in S.A. is derived from indigenous plants.
What the pandemic has shown us, is that the invasion of natural habitats can bring us face to face with diseases that were once confined to the wilderness. Post-Covid, we now know that 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife. As human population pressures and poverty increases, people will continue to hunt wildlife and eat meat that shouldn’t be eaten. The best way for us to prevent future pandemics is simply to reduce meat consumption and respect our natural ecosystems for what they naturally are.
Nature protects us — Biodiverse ecosystems provide a buffer against extreme weather events. Forests, grasslands and wetlands are all vital to keeping the climate under control. Land and nature also help us bounce back from drought, floods and wildfires in the changing climate.
In S.A, commercial farming has the biggest impact on biodiversity loss. And also, (as if we don’t mention this in almost every newsletter!?), shifting to a plant-based diet would mean less land required for meat production and therefore greater biodiversity protection.
In addition to protecting us, plants protect other plants by ‘talking to each other’ in wildly complex ways. Instead of communicating by sound like we do, plants use scent. Research found that when giraffes fed on umbrella thorn acacias, the trees took mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves — making them unpalatable to giraffes. The warning gas also signalled neighbouring species of the ‘looming danger’. It seems as though, amazingly, in some instances, nature can protect itself as well.
Then there are the wolves in Yellowstone National Park who when reintroduced, changed the course of the rivers in the park…it is truly fascinating what can happen when plant and animal species coexist in a healthy environment.
Speaking of, we are enthralled by this #dazzleofzebras captured by National Geographic. Animals like zebras play a critical role in nature, by clearing the way for growth of new vegetation and keeping nature in balance. Have you seen NatGeo’s best wildlife photos of 2020?
This has lessons for us as humanity which has become increasingly disconnected, aggressive, even apathetic towards one another and other species. My Octopus Teacher is a captivating documentary on a friendship formed between a man and an octopus — reminding us of our connection to nature. What we need is to know our true place in the interconnected, natural world as it can teach us so many things in terms of restoring balance and measure.
How can we now protect what we have left?
One Planet Companies and Organisations work to not only reduce the impact of their operations and products + services on ecosystems, but to make a positive contribution to local biodiversity and habitats. They source materials responsibly and eliminate the use of materials associated with the destruction of natural habitats or farmland.
Source locally and sustainably
Consider which of your existing materials and products have a negative impact on nature e.g. those which lead to damage of important ecosystems such as peat harvesting or unsustainable palm oil plantations.
Palm oil is just about in everything these days… biscuits, bread, crisps, shampoos, toothpaste… and organisations like Greenpeace are working hard to make the palm oil industry clean up its act, exposing big brands from using dirty palm oil which destroys natural forests in Indonesia. Large corporates are tasked to investigate their palm oil suppliers and only buy from responsible growers that aren’t destroying forests or exploiting local people.
Look instead at sourcing materials locally and from certified sustainable sources. Examples of those could be FSC forest management certification, Heart Eco for reclaimed timber or Ecopack for sustainable packaging.
Establish a veggie OR indigenous garden
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to improve the mental health and wellness (even productivity and resilience) is to incorporate functional green areas in workspaces.
These could include food gardens or indigenous gardens in which staff can participate in and enjoy. Use these green spaces to share knowledge on the value of land and nature.
Danville Park Girls High School is a wonderful exemplar for successfully enhancing biodiversity on the school’s premises. They have planted indigenous gardens that have attracted more birds, reptiles, mammals and insects. Even more impressive, they’ve put up labels on indigenous trees to help educate learners and gardening staff. Through their sustainability efforts they have also won significant funding to establish food gardens at the school — sharing not too much with the monkeys is their next challenge!
A few lovely local food gardening initiatives have been led by the Fair Food Foundation, the Paw-Paw Foundation and the Waterloo food gardening project led by us at Bioregional!
Also, have you heard about the most recent food gardening initiative being run by the homeless? Whilst being sheltered by Denis Hurley Centre during the lockdown, the homeless took it upon themselves to establish this fantastic food garden below.
All of these initiatives encourage people to buy local and support local growers — and of course ensuring their produce is organic and seasonal, minimise ‘food miles’.
This is a step in the right direction — not only for Land and Nature but also for Durban’s Local and Sustainable Food, Equity and Local Economy, and Culture and Community …Connections in sustainability is what it is all about.
Engage teams and support a conservation initiative
Engaging colleagues and friends on the actions you are taking may be the most impactful. As a company, consider backing a conservation initiative by providing employee time and some financial support.
Conservancies KZN are voluntary community organisations made up of people who care for the environment, protecting our wildlife and our ecological systems — but they are also involved in the conservation of fresh water, waste management, alien vegetation removal, recycling and renewable energy. You could get involved as a volunteer or as part of a corporate team-building effort, to clear out some aliens or do indigenous planting.
Working for Ecosystems is the eThekwini’s municipal model in restoring ecosystems services through invasive alien plant control. The dual learning pathways for the SMME’s entails learning the practice of invasive alien plant control as well as becoming fully fledged contractors.
Lastly, integrate education on the value of land and nature in operations and share this with customers and suppliers. Examples could be labelling, talks, tree planting, building bird nest boxes and simply promoting products which have a positive benefit to nature.
To halt a wave of extinction and ensure the survival of our ecosystems, we must conserve at least 30% of the planet’s land and nature by 2030. We won’t survive without clean water, land and oceans.
According to the World Economic Forum, this is what the world could look like in the coming decades and it is a pretty dire picture of frequent climate related illnesses, severe drought, dwindling crops, floods, wildfires as well as severe water and food insecurity.
Today, business as usual is making our planet uninhabitable. Nature based solutions are key to humanity’s survival. We have to manage what we have left with greater sustainability and stewardship ethos. We look forward to South Africa backing the global pledge to reduce biodiversity loss in the next decade but that doesn’t stop us from doing our bit today.