environment indigenous succulent

Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project

Here is an interesting article on work that is being done by a Cape Town agency, C4 EcoSolutions, whose primary focus is the provision of innovative, evidence-based solutions for adapting to climate change, conserving and restoring ecosystems, mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, as well as the capacity building of communities and developing countries. The name C4 derives from the company’s focus on Climate, Communities, Conservation and Carbon.

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)

Spekboom is quite unique in that it is a succulent tree that grows rapidly from cuttings and is a favoured food of elephants and other wildlife. Indeed, its common name in Afrikaans is ‘Olifantskos’ which translates as ‘elephant’s food’. It is also prized by goats, which has unfortunately lead to its demise and the degradation of over a million hectares of land in the Eastern Cape.

An interesting and fascinating feature of Spekboom is that it can “change gears” within its photosynthetic machinery. In wet conditions it uses the same system as rainforest plants and in dry conditions it switches to a system used by desert cacti. This switching enables it to grow and capture carbon much faster than other plants that occur naturally in semi-arid environments.

C4 EcoSolutions and Spekboom

Dr Anthony Mills is undertaking research on how Spekboom manages to accumulate such an extraordinary amount of soil carbon below its canopy. This work is being undertaken in conjunction with Dr Ailsa Hardy at the Department of Soil Science, Stellenbosch University. The chemistry of the organic carbon molecules under spekboom will be investigated to determine why microbes in this ecosystem decompose the organic matter slower than those in other semi-arid ecosystems.

Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project

Background to thicket restoration and carbon farming

Approximately 800,000 hectares of land have been highly degraded by intensive goat farming over the past century in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

  • This degradation results in considerable loss of carbon from plants and soils.
  • Restoration of degraded thicket using the indigenous tree Spekboom results in rapid return of carbon to the ecosystem.
  • This ‘captured’ carbon can be sold on international markets. These markets are growing rapidly and have emerged as a result of efforts to reduce concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thereby combat global warming and climate change.
  • The opportunity therefore exists to restore thicket and generate a new source of income for rural communities.
  • This income from ‘carbon farming’ is likely to be substantially greater than present income streams from livestock farming. The internal rates of return (at present carbon prices) make the investment attractive.
  • There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of degraded subtropical thicket, and there is consequently no shortage of land. In addition to income stream generation, the opportunity exists to create tens of thousands of jobs because the restoration process is labour intensive.
  • The restoration would also improve the conservation status of the land, improve soil quality, reduce erosion and result in a return of biodiversity.
  • New landowners that emerge from the land redistribution process in the Eastern Cape could benefit greatly from this new land-use of carbon farming.

The Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project

To capitalise on the above opportunities, the Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project was launched by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) in January 2004.

  • The aims of the project are to:
    ·determine the most effective way of maximising carbon return in degraded landscapes; promote return of biodiversity;
    ·develop strategies for sustainable use of restored thicket by rural communities;
    ·facilitate the private sector’s involvement in large scale restoration.
  • To date, approximately 250 hectares of degraded thicket in the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve have been restored. The project is now in a second phase (2007-2010) in which an additional 400 hectares of land will be restored across the entire thicket biome.

The long-term vision for Eastern Cape rural areas

  • The vision is to tap into the international carbon market (worth tens of billions of dollars) and thereby restore hundreds of thousands of hectares of degraded thicket, provide tens of thousands of jobs in the process, and create a source of income for rural communities for many decades.
  • The Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project aims to catalyse this process which will potentially generate many millions of carbon credits per annum.
  • This project has the potential to create a new rural economy in the Eastern Cape.

6 replies on “Subtropical Thicket Restoration Project”

Spekboom rocks – when I was doing research in the Karoo last year lots of game farmers were looking into the potential to get Carbon credits – under current voluntary carbon markets this is still a way off – but sequestering carbon and alleviating degradation makes spekboom the superman of south African plants 🙂

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