Rehabitate isn't a word
Trying to find a name that represents who we are and what we do was difficult. Ultimately we decided to make up our own word. One that takes into account all the facets of our science based holistic approach in restoring degraded habitats.
Definition: To restore and secure all species and natural processes possible in a previously degraded area, where they were historically found, based on scientific principles, informed by indigenous knowledge and with a holistic view that holds sustainability as a core principle.
Conservation has needed a change for some time now. The way we traditionally have done things is leading is down a path that we feel will ultimately cause the mutual decimation of the environment, regional economies, and social stability. Funding has dried up and the populations around reserves have grown dramatically. The sustainable resource use concept applied in South Africa is ironically no longer sustainable in its current form.
Each country and each reserve faces different dynamics and variable challenges. Many reserves have done admirable work thus far and have tried to link the conservation work to the communities outside these reserves. At the most minimal they have provided work in areas where little work was available and in some cases there have been the creation of small businesses, building of schools, clinics, and bakeries, and mentorship programmes. However, much of this had been driven from the perspective of the reserve only, and community focused development has been from the perspective of the community only. They are not separate things – but rather intricately intertwined. This minor lapse in understanding has had dramatic effects. As the resources (the reserve) has generally remained the same size, with the same employment opportunities, and same benefits, the population has grown and these benefits have become less and less impactful.
Additionally, many of the early agreements were made with people who are now either elderly or no longer here, and the youth who have few employment opportunities feel they have gained very little, or are unaware of the gains that have been made. This has led to a brewing of resentment in some areas, and dissatisfaction in other areas.
It has also led to the unequal attention on environmental and human issues.
We strongly believe a subtle change in the approach can alter this. Understanding that the environment, social issues, and economic concerns are all interlinked and interdependent is the crucial. That if one pillar is neglected or faces threats, then the others will also be affected and projects will ultimately fail to reach their potential.
The health of the system as a whole, using a holistic approach, will lead to sustainable conservation and sustainable human health and development. One cannot be addressed at the expense of the other – but rather through solutions that address these issues in a broader context. Developing environmental health must coincide with developing the local economy and addressing the social pressures faced by the people. These must all be addresses taking all perspectives into account.
How we do this is just as important. Our approach is to work in an alliance with people and organisations from each pillar of sustainability. We are the environmental focused component (and other select environmental partners), and we partner with various community focused organisations who champion the community issues, and business focused organisations and corporate visionaries who champion the economic and structural components. In a project-by-project approach, we bring in other roles players to ensure we get as broad a view as possible, and thus implement projects that address the issues faced by all 3 pillars of sustainability.
However none of this would mean anything if the people themselves are not involved. The community need an equal involvement in power sharing structures, and the projects and approach must be needs driven and usually community requested. The culture and methodology of the people living in the region must also be taken into account and inform not only decisions, but they process in making these decision and how they are communicated. Communication must also take into account the difference not only of ethnic groups – but also vocational speech – such as an ecologist trying to explain their perspective to a farmer or an accountant. They all speak different languages.
Projects that protect and restore the environment can also be projects that have decision making actions by the community and that bring income or direct benefits. Restoring habitats along river systems cleans the water the community drink, their livestock drinks, and that they wash in, as well as keeps the fish they eat healthy and toxin free. Regenerative farming provides food and income, but also restores the rangeland, local climate systems, sequesters green house gases, and provides water security by improving water cycles.
Regenerative agriculture can also b an exceptional tool to expand wild habitats and link existing protected areas through lands that would never normally be available.
Work opportunities don’t have to be limited to hospitality or reserves, but training for people to follow their passion and either work outside the area, or encourage entrepreneurs to start new businesses help develop the economy and drive employment in new sectors are opportunities that each person should have access to.