This month saw the start of a €6.7-million (about R110-million) spatial biodiversity assessment, prioritisation and planning (SBAPP) project, which is expected to improve environmental planning and monitor the status of indigenous species and ecosystems in four Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, namely South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) is the lead implementing agency of the project, with country coordination by the Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism, the Wildlife Conservation Society country office in Mozambique, and the Malawi University of Science and Technology.
The project will extend over five years to May 2027.
Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial (FFEM) will each grant €2-million to co-finance the project.
The project will assess a range of different species and ecosystems in each country, using the Red List standards set by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
These species and ecosystems are considered to be under threat from infrastructure and agricultural development, overuse of natural resources, pollution, biological invasions and climate change.
SBAPP processes involve a range of stakeholders – including scientists based at national and local government agencies, national and international nongovernmental organisations, university-based academics, independent consultants, citizen scientists, local knowledge holders and community groups.
Each country is, therefore, contributing considerable additional resources through the multiple partnerships and key people involved in this project.
Sanbi Biodiversity Research Projects deputy director Carol Poole says the SADC region is a priority for a number of reasons.
“It hosts species found nowhere else on earth and some of the world’s richest ecosystems. These are an important part of the world's natural heritage and are a source of economic activity and employment. They also serve communities by supplying free essential services such as clean water and air, improved soil productivity and pollination,” she explains.
The project, which will map and monitor various components of biodiversity, is expected to supply valuable information for the development of national strategies and action plans.
It is also slated to equip authorities to better allocate scarce resources, prioritise conservation efforts in the most relevant areas, and more broadly ensure that biodiversity is mainstreamed into local, regional and national spatial planning and decision-making.
Poole notes that two of the most critical challenges that human society faces today are the loss of biodiversity, and the impacts of climate change. The two are closely intertwined.
Fully functioning ecosystems can provide protection against changing climatic conditions. For example, intact coastal dunes and functioning wetlands and estuaries are better able to protect people and built infrastructure from the impacts of extreme weather events, such as those recently experienced in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. They help reduce the economic burden associated with such disasters.
The four SADC countries have begun some aspects of SBAPP processes, but many are noted as still having a long way to go. Working on a regional basis is therefore emphasised, as the four countries share cross-border ecosystem types and species populations, and have similar pressures that impact ecological conditions.
The project will support each government’s ability to continue their efforts as well as deliver on post-2020 biodiversity commitments that form part of the international agreements to which they are signatories.
South Africa is said to be well placed to lead a project of this nature. Through Sanbi, it is one of the continent's pioneer countries as SBAPP processes have been conducted in the country for over twenty years and are now successfully influencing decision-making.
The SBAPP project is expected to strengthen the national knowledge base on biodiversity in all four countries, ensure this knowledge informs land use planning and decision-making, and provide a basis for future biodiversity monitoring and the development of environmental policies and strategies.
The information collected as part of the project will be owned by the participating countries and will be made publicly available.