A novel conservation exchange for increased climate resilience in the Northern Cape, South Africa

Full Solution
EWT staff member JP le Roux and farmer Jaco van Wyk outside Papkuilsfontein reception

Nieuwoudtville is primarily a sheep and tea farming area but is also the worlds ‘bulb’ capital, experiencing a seasonable tourism industry based on the spectacular annual wildflower display. Poor management of indigenous rangelands and climate change have made farming largely non-viable forcing farmers to diversify their income streams to remain financially viable.

Through our unique conservation exchange, we provide expertise and resources to build multi-purpose trails on farms in return for landowners signing commitments to join the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme (BSP) – a voluntary but legal process to declare private properties as part of the national protected area estate.

This obligation is underpinned by management plans that result in improved range management and include activities such as correct stocking rates, habitat rest, erosion control and alien plant removal which all lead to improved resilience. In this way we demonstrate that conservation can have tangible benefits to farmers.

Last update: 24 Sep 2021
Challenges addressed
Erratic rainfall
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Lack of technical capacity
Unemployment / poverty

The challenge is to achieve multiple outcomes with one simple, but effective solution. The challenges in this area include: a changing climate that renders traditional farming practices unsustainable, lack of job opportunities and a very short tourism season. For farmers to adopt income diversification strategies, they need access to a proven model, sound management plans, and support to implement the solution. We have proposed a conservation-tourism-farming exchange model but any solution that is based on the environment requires the environment itself to be protected. For this we need strategies to protect biodiversity, the unique landscape and enhance resilience. This strategy also speaks to lengthening the tourism season and length of visitor stay.

Poor access to higher education limits the ability of community members to benefit from solutions. However, we’ve enabled participation through the creation of spin-off business can be created such as guiding, slackpacking, bike maintenance etc.

Scale of implementation
Rangeland / Pasture
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Invasive alien species
Ecosystem services
Sustainable financing
Sustainable livelihoods
Local actors
Land management
Nieuwoudtville, Northern Cape, South Africa
East and South Africa
Summary of the process

The partnership creates a foundation of trust, mutual understanding, clarity on roles and responsibilities, and well-defined expectations and deliverables. This is essential as it creates peace of mind for the stakeholders to engage and proceed with the Biodiversity Stewardship Framework where legal documents have to be signed and commitments have to be made in respect of management plans and annual plans of operation. The willingness to commit to the framework means that conservation gains are going to be contractually secured and that the EWT can activate the Incentive, in this case providing funding and expertise to develop trails.  Once operational, the trails will yield immediate financial results for the farmer and benefits to the ecotourist. The incentive demonstrates to parties that the partnership is worthwhile, works well, and that promises have been delivered upon. This reinforces the partnership which improves the likelihood of implementation of the framework and the overall sustainability of the project. It also helps generate interest from other farmers wanting to establish similar operations, thus leading to a larger landscape-orientated conservation gain.

Building Blocks

It goes without saying that change cannot take place unless based on sound partnerships that have clearly defined roles, responsibilities and deliverables. Changing farming practices is challenging as these ingrained practices have been passed down for generations. The EWT is able to assist the farmer to bridge the gap between traditional farming techniques and the skills required to transition toward nature-based tourism models.

We found it essential to select farmers who are open to change and then to build their trust through the provision of proven deliverables and mutual respect. Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly outlined and defined in order to speed up the operationalisation of projects and avoid misunderstandings. Our project set holistic goals that supported the farmer and his family, the farm workers, the conservation of biodiversity and provided a unique experience for the outdoor enthusiast.

Building lasting and open partnerships are one of the hallmarks of this project. It is part of the foundation for our success.

Enabling factors
  • Trust
  • Open channels of communication
  • Clarity on what parties want
  • Willingness to collaborate
  • Realistic projects that are well thought out and can realistically provide the expected benefits.
Lesson learned
  • Trust and partnerships are built on regular contact.
  • Communication must be open and honest.
  • By ensuring that a staff member was on site we could build trust more rapidly. Having an EWT staff member in the area to provide extension services was of critical importance.
  • Finding willing partners that are enthusiastic is critical to success.
  • Providing constant support and encouragement – if you promise to do something it has to be done.
  • Ensure that there is a reciprocal situation where the farmer also has responsibilities to perform at his own cost – this leads to a more vested relationships where it is in everybody’s interest to ensure the project is successful.
Conservation framework

In South Arica we are fortunate to have a very progressive legislative programme for conservation on private land. The Biodiversity Stewardship framework allows for the voluntary declaration of private lands into the protected areas network following a clearly defined process.  As the process is well established, it is relatively easy to implement it and commitments are well understood. However, governmental conservation agencies have constraints on their capacity and rely on NGOs such as the EWT, to facilitate the process of identifying suitable properties, engaging with willing farmers and/or landowners, and developing the associated tools such as the farm management plan and annual plans of operation.

Landowners sign an agreement with the provincial conservation authorities formalising the declaration into the title deed of the property. This framework largely results in a win-win as biodiversity is conserved, the country is better able to meet its conservation goals in terms of multi-lateral agreements, and the farmer has a more sustainable farming operation to support his livelihood. Subsidiary benefits can be accrued to local communities through entrepreneurship opportunities. To pursue our conservation exchange, we merged this framework with other agreements between the farmer and the EWT.

Enabling factors
  • The NGO has funds and resources on the ground to engage with farmers / landowners.
  • A good understanding by the landowner of exactly what they are committing to and the long-term expectations they need to meet. This should be based on clearly defined contractual terms.
  • Landowner willingness to participate in the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme.
  • Willingness to change farming practices.
  • Ability of NGOs such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust to support the farmer over the longer term.
  • Good relationships with local members of the provincial government.
Lesson learned
  • A contractual framework is important as it clearly defines what is expected. Keep contracts short and to the point – the focus must be more on roles and responsibilities than about legal enforceability.
  • It can take time to have property declared under the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme due to departmental signoff processes. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the farmers understand the delays and where the process is at.
  • Rather than focus on the Biodiversity Stewardship process, focus on enabling the framework around improved management and the necessary support to get there.
Incentive and sustainability

Our project is based on the premise that farmers want sustainability and are incentivised to achieve this. No farming operation will be viable in the long run unless it is done in an ecologically and economically responsible manner. Climate change has led to an increased frequency of drought, as well as an increased severity of drought in the western regions of South Africa. Stocking rates are effectively falling as a result of climate change, and this necessitates the need for farmers to diversify income in order to survive. Failure to change will have a devastating impact on biodiversity.

We are incentivising farmers to protect biodiversity through the adoption of more sustainable farming practices, e.g. grazing rest, correct stocking rates and habitat restoration activities. While these lead to fewer, but better quality animals, the farmer still experiences a loss of income. We help the farmer compensate for this through the adoption of non-farming activities such as ecotourism.

Through continual engagement with the farmer, we are able to address concerns as they are raised and ensure that the farmer perceives active engagement in the partnership as an incentive to improve his farming operation.

Enabling factors

The region has an existing tourism industry which can be leveraged upon. Known as the ‘bulb capital of the world’, the area is well known and relatively close (a 3.5 hr drive) to an international airport. However, this season lasts approximately 2-months, and this project seeks to extend tourism operations throughout the year.

The farmer needs to be open to tourism as a means of generating tourism income. 

The project has immediate potential to generate additional revenue and can be custom designed to suit the infrastructure and abilities of the farmer.

Lesson learned
  • Choose projects which are quick to implement and quick to show results.  This will booster partnerships and improve the chances of other promises being fulfilled.
  • Farmers are not keen on paperwork and administration and often require support in this area, especially as it relates to the new venture.
  • It is very important to demonstrate that the incentive is working as this underpins continued collaboration. Celebrate the small successes.

Environmental: The project was piloted on the farm Papkuilsfontein, a magnificent 7,000 ha farm whose conservation status is in the process of being elevated to that of Protected Environment; the second highest category within South Africa’s protected area hierarchy.  A management plan has been completed and addresses farm management practices. This will ultimately lead to better conservation management of the farm, reduced habitat degradation and improved climate change resilience.

Social:  The trails constructed to date have attracted more visitors to the farm to experience its incredible biodiversity.  We are currently training two local guides, who will graduate towards the end of 2021 in order to lead tours and enhance visitor experiences.

Economic:  More visitors visiting the farm to use the trails means that the economic impact is not only greater but that it is also spread out over the entire year. This means improved job security for workers that were previously employed over only the limited flower tourist season. Increased tourism also has a multiplier effect on the economy on the town in general, which is important in this fairly remote area that experiences high rates of unemployment and offers few job opportunities. The farmer is able to vary his farming practices as overall income is more diversified and less prone to climatic risks associated with only farming sheep.


The famers and farmworkers of Papkuilsfontein, community members of Nieuwoudtville trained as guides, the community of Nieuwoudtville in respect of the economic multiplier effect of increased tourism. Tourists who can access new nature experiences.

Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Our spectacular project site

In 2017, the EWT initiated sustainable land management work under the GEF 5-funded “Securing multiple ecosystem benefits through Sustainable Land Management (SLM) in the productive but degraded landscapes of South Africa” (the Karoo node, arid western interior of South Africa).

From the onset we departed from traditional approaches whereby project sites were selected based on land degradation, instead using ‘willingness to collaborate’ as the deciding factor in selecting partners. Using this approach, we identified the Van Wyk family in Nieuwoudtville and their 7,000 ha farm called Papkuilsfontein, as a suitable site to pilot our innovative work.

Their openness and desire for sustainability were immediately obvious. We developed a meaningful partnership and signed agreements to solidify the project. We discussed a number of ideas for a SLM project, including the idea of a trails network to diversity income, which immediately appealed to the Van Wyk family.

With additional funds from the UNDP and Rand Merchant Bank, our staff member in the area, JP le Roux began constructing trails in early 2020. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused some delays but, nevertheless over 100 km of trails have been completed and are fully operational.

Even before the trails on Papkuilsfontein were completed, we saw them used by visitors – runners and mountain bikers. Despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic, the first year of operation has already generated economic benefits for the farm and community. It has been so successful that adjacent landowners have approached the EWT to participate in this conservation exchange programme. The impact to date has been astounding and even under the most challenging eco-tourism restrictions as a result of covid, the trails have illustrated their sustainability potential.

Selecting the correct partner for land management is critical. In the van Wyk family we found people prepared to commit their own resources and determination not only to make the trails component work, but also to implement actions that are required for better protection of the biodiversity on their farm.  

These conservation champions have helped us promote ideas and actions amongst other farmers in their community by demonstrating that conservation actions are ultimately in the hands of landowners and that these can yield benefits for all stakeholders.  That is the power of this concept.

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Other contributors
Cobus Theron
Endangered Wildlife Trust