Thohoyandou - Future generations and humanity’s survival depends on the sustainable use of natural resources and protection of the environment, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.
Speaking at the launch of the Biodiversity Economy Operation Phakisa at the Kalahari Waterfront in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, he said South Africa's Constitution recognised and celebrated the diversity of the people.
This human diversity was reflected, and multiplied many times over, in the diversity of South Africa's plant and animal life.
"In the area bounded by the Indian and Atlantic oceans, by the Limpopo and Orange rivers, lives a multitude of species that makes South Africa the third most biodiverse country in the world. For millennia, this bountiful natural heritage has sustained our people. It has fed them, healed them, sheltered them and provided the means and the inspiration for cultural expression," he said.
"Now, we again seek to harness this biodiversity to enable our people to prosper and to flourish. We seek to harness our ancient inheritance and indigenous knowledge to open up new opportunities for commerce, trade and entrepreneurship. We know that this inheritance is precious and fragile, and, therefore, as we develop the economic potential of our natural resources, we are bound to ensure that we do so sustainably."
It was not far from there that the ancient kingdom of Mapungubwe grew and thrived many centuries ago. Historians told that Mapungubwe developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent with a vibrant economy before it was abandoned in the 14th century.
It was suggested that its demise was brought about by changes to the climate that affected both the people and plants. When rainfall decreased, the land could no longer sustain a large population using traditional farming methods and the inhabitants had to disperse.
"This is a lesson for us and for future generations that humanity’s survival depends on the sustainable use of natural resources and protection of the environment. The destruction of our biodiversity – the loss of plant and animal species – has grave implications for our own survival and well-being. It affects livelihoods, health, and food and water security," Ramaphosa said.
However, on the other hand, sustainable maintenance of biodiversity could contribute to efforts to eradicate poverty and create economic opportunities for people. Biodiversity needed to feature in all areas of economic development, across areas such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, mining, energy, tourism, and transport.
The opportunities in the biodiversity economy that the Operation Phakisa initiative identified held great potential to reshape the rural economy and lift many people out of poverty.
"If properly developed, the biodiversity economy can assist in accelerating transformation by providing not only employment, but also business opportunities for black South Africans. It is also an opportunity for innovation.
"Drawing on traditional knowledge about the use of indigenous plants there is great scope for the country’s scientists and researchers to develop products that can be manufactured in rural areas and sold across the world. All this needs to take place alongside programmes to ensure there is no exploitation of communities or the natural resources that are so necessary for their sustenance," Ramaphosa said.
In addition to the use of plants to produce cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, the biodiversity economy also involved the development of the wildlife economy through game farming, hunting, hospitality, and the supply of game meat. An additional component was eco-tourism, an area of economic development that held vast potential.
The biodiversity economy provided an opportunity to address the exclusion of the majority of South African from such sectors of the economy. It was a way of ensuring that the custodians of the genetic resources and the holders of traditional knowledge were able to fully benefit from the tangible and intangible heritage they possessed, he said.
Through the development of the biodiversity economy it was anticipated that 162,000 jobs could be created and R47 billion generated by 2030.
"We aim to increase business and land ownership by previously disadvantaged individuals, boosting participation by communities, expanding cultivation of key indigenous plants by 500 hectares a year, and having 100 Blue Flag beaches designated across South Africa by 2030," Ramaphosa said.
The wildlife sector of South Africa had experienced noticeable growth over the years and employed around 100,000 people across the value chain. This sector had been growing consistently faster than the general economy, contributing R3 billion to GDP in 2014, which was almost double the contribution it made in 2008.
Over the next five years government would spend around R1.18 billion on supplying the underlying infrastructure required to grow the biodiversity economy and ensure that it contributed meaningfully to the South African economy, he said.
African News Agency/ANA