Ecosystem-based Adaptation in Durban, South Africa - the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project

Errol Douwes
Published: 11 June 2019
Last edited: 24 July 2023
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The Buffelsdraai Landfill Site Community Reforestation Project, implemented by eThekwini Municipality (Durban Metropolitan Area), is a flagship project that demonstrates numerous adaptation and mitigation co-benefits. The project has been highly successful in showcasing the role that natural ecosystems play in underwriting the livelihoods and resilience of people, and the role that human communities can play in supporting, restoring and protecting local ecosystems.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
River, stream
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Fire management
Local actors
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Sustainable livelihoods
Urban planning
Urban and Disaster Risk Management
Resilience and disaster risk management
Territorial and spatial development
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of infrastructure
Unemployment / poverty
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 4 – Quality education
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions
Aichi targets
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 9: Invasive alien species prevented and controlled
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge
Sendai Framework
Target 2: Reduce the number of affected people globally by 2030


Ethekwini, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Climate hazards such as heavy rain events with high erosive capacity, increased average annual temperatures and heat waves, and more frequent droughts are expected to impact negatively on citizens and biodiversity within the greater Durban area. Specific threats include water scarcity, food insecurity, floods, the spread of diseases such as malaria and cholera, and damages to infrastructure.

“The city of Durban in South Africa typifies the many small- to medium-sized cities around the world that are likely to be significantly impacted by climate change. These cities are caught in a “perfect storm” of population growth, escalating adaptation needs and substantial development deficits created by a shortage of human and financial resources, increasing levels of informality, poor governance, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, poverty and growing inequality (Roberts, D. & O´Donoghue, S. 2013)”.


Direct beneficiaries are the local communities living adjacent to the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site. The inhabitants of Durban metropolitan area benefit indirectly through the enhanced flow of ecosystem services.

How do the building blocks interact?

BB 1: Shaping nature - Restoration of forest ecosystems is at the core of the solution. It is complemented and broadened by BB 2: Shaping the future - The Tree-Preneuer model and reforestation hub add a long-term socio-economic perspective. BB 1 and BB 2 are important elements of a concrete change process with tangible improvements and resilience benefits for the local communities and biodiversity. This promising approach has paved the way for the development of a community ecosystem-based adaptation (CEBA) concept (BB 3), the principles of which are now embedded in a range of projects, as part of a strategic institutional mainstreaming objective.


Whilst climate mitigation was the initial objective, the project quickly demonstrated substantive adaptation benefits from the restoration of local ecosystems. Relevant adaptation benefits include improved river-flow regulation or attenuation and sediment control in the face of erratic rainfalls and floods; and better retention of subsoil water during dry periods. As such, the adaptation benefits have come to take greater preference, and learnings from the project are anticipated to be scaled up or replicated in other areas. The multiple socio-ecological benefits achieved by the project have resulted in Gold Standard validation by the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance.

Environmental impacts: Control of alien invasive plants, reduction in erosion, restoration of water services, improved biodiversity refuges, water quality, river-flow regulation, flood mitigation, sediment control, visual amenity, and fire-risk reduction.

Socio-economic impacts: Since 2008 the project has created a total of 635 jobs  for members of the surrounding communities (as of January 2018). Ongoing support of tree-preneurs, who grow trees for the project, led to an increase in household income and skills development. Further benefits include reduced expenditure on replacing grey infrastructure e.g. bridges.


Errol Douwes

The Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project, situated within the buffer zone of Durban’s Buffelsdraai Regional Landfill Site was initiated in November 2008. The initial aim was to offset a portion of CO2 emissions (declared as 307,208 tons CO2 equivalent) associated with the city hosting of several 2010 FIFA World CupTM soccer matches. However, whilst climate mitigation was the initial objective, the project quickly demonstrated substantive climate-change adaptation benefits, and these are now considered to be of even greater importance. Adaptation in this context refers to practical ways in which risks from climate impacts can be managed, including reducing risks that  communities are exposed to and boosting the local economy. Enhanced ecosystem services delivered by restored landscapes, for example river-flow regulation and sediment control in the face of erratic rainfalls and floods, show direct benefits to local communities. Specific socioeconomic benefits witnessed as part of the project at Buffelsdraai include increased food security and livelihoods opportunities for local community members, as well as better education options for local school children. One of the many inspirational stories that have emerged since the inception of the Durban’s Reforestation Programme, is that of Melta Majola. She signed up as a Tree-preneur, in 2009, in order to start growing trees for the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project. Melta lives with her two grandchildren, and cares for them following the death of her son and daughter-in-law. Through this project she has learnt to collect wild seed on her own, and has grown many seedlings for the reforestation project. The tree sales complement the money she receives from her pension grant and as such, she is better able support her family. Through the project she has been able to buy an electric stove, making her home safer, and she is also able to buy groceries with the credits she receives for the trees. This has freed up her pension grant which she uses for school fees and transport for her grandchildren. During a recent visit to Melta’s home-based tree nursery, she had a stock of approximately 1 200 trees, which  were valued at ~R 7 000. Melta has indicated that she appreciates the knowledge of indigenous plants that she has gained through this programme. In addition, Melta is involved in a project for recycling of plastic, tins and bottles in her area, which also generates some income.

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EThekwini Municipality