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Environmental Law 9 - The sustainable and equitable utilization of biodiversity.

  • The sustainable and equitable utilization of biodiversity.
  • Biodiversity conservation is protected and implemented inter alia by the following national policy and legislation:
  • South Africa’s Constitution (Act 108 of 1996), including the Bill of Rights (Chapter 2, Section 24)
  • Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 1983 (Act 43 of 1983)
  • Marine Living Resources Act, 1998 (Act 18 0f 1998)
  • National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998)
  • National Forests Act, 1998 (Act 84 of 1998)
  • National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act 57 of 2003)
  • National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act 10 of 2004)

The national policy on biodiversity was published in 1997, the White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biological Diversity. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism prepared the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) to establish a clear framework and a plan of action for the conservation and sustainable use of South Africa’s biodiversity and the equitable sharing of benefits derived from its use. One of the Strategic Objectives of NBSAP is that human development and wellbeing is enhanced through sustainable use of biological resources and equitable sharing of the benefits.

This Strategic Objective relates primarily to the benefits that people get from direct use of biological resources, whether at a household level (for subsistence or trade) or by sectors which are dependent on the renewal of these resources, and which will suffer economic losses if the resources are not well managed or are lost. This includes sectors such as ecotourism, fishing, hunting and ranching (wildlife and domestic livestock).

To achieve sustainability and to optimize benefits, use of biological resources must be well managed. Initiatives to address this include the following:

  1. Harvesting quotas and lists of threatened and protected species must be updated
  2. Programmes for medicinal plants must be developed with key stakeholders and implementation should commence to facilitate the recovery of wild populations of medicinal plants
  3. Community Based Natural Resource Management programmes need to be developed and implemented
  4. Biological resources that support sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care, especially for poor people, must be maintained

The focus is not on prohibiting use of the country’s biological resources, but rather on creating a framework within which these natural assets can benefit communities in perpetuity. Various legislation prohibits unrestricted harvesting, for example for threatened muthi-plants, and these plants are protected by National and Provincial Legislation. However, one may obtain a permit to cultivate such species if it will not negatively impact on that species and one contributes to the sustainability of that resource.

Direct impacts on biological resources are easily visible, for example landscape denudation and alien plant invasions. However, indirect impacts are less easy to observe. For example transformation of natural grassland to croplands can result in the loss of pollinators (primarily insects) critical to the success of that specific planted crop, resulting in poor crop yields. This already is the case in some parts of the world. For example, in some parts of China cherry trees have to be hand-pollinated due to an absence of natural pollinators. Biodiversity enriches our lives, not only through our experiences but also by providing essential services required for ecosystem functioning. The Kyoto Protocol is another initiative put in place to encourage sustainable utilization of the earth’s resources – it is sad that some of the World’s leading nations, such as the US, are not party to this landmark agreement.

We are fortunate in South Africa to have large natural areas remaining; however these are gradually being eroded away. It is important that we manage our biodiversity resources sustainably to ensure that future generations are also able to take advantage of the same benefits that we have today.

The author will not be held responsible for misinterpretation of the law, and strongly recommends that readers consult their local DAEA branch for clarification.

  1. Afzelia Environmental Consultants cc
  2. Tel: +27(0) 31 303 2835
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  Tel: +27 (31) 303 2835
  Fax: +27 (86) 692 2547
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  Tel: +27 (31) 303 2835
  Fax: +27 (86) 692 2547
  Map »