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

Full Solution
Trees bring hope, and income, to local community members.
Errol Douwes

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.

Last update: 24 Jul 2023
Défis à relever
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

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)”.

Scale of implementation
River, stream
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Disaster risk reduction
Ecosystem services
Sustainable livelihoods
Local actors
Fire management
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Urban planning
Science and research
Ethekwini, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
East and South Africa
Summary of the process

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.

Building Blocks
Shaping nature - Restoration of forest ecosystems

In addition to its original conceptualization as a mitigation project, the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site Community Reforestation Project delivers several important adaptation benefits, ensuring the improved supply of a large number of other ecosystem services (e.g. water quality, flood attenuation, sediment regulation, river flow regulation). All of these ecosystem services further enhance the adaptive capacity of local communities and reduce the impacts of short- and long-term climate hazards such as heavy rain events with high erosive capacity, floods and erosion on local residents and grey infrastructure. Thus, it demonstrates the strong and vital link that exists between natural ecosystems and the human communities they support and protect, and between the human communities that support, restore and protect local ecosystems.

Enabling factors
  • Support for the project from local leaders and commitment of community members.
  • Neighboring communities understanding the objectives and benefits of the project.
  • Partnership between the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department (EPCPD) and the Durban Solid Waste Department (DSW).
  • Seed funding from the Danish government and co-funding from the National Green Fund.
Lesson learned
  • The project has demonstrated that forest restoration can provide direct socio-economic benefits to surrounding communities through enhanced ecosystem functioning.
  • Further interrogation and evaluation of the project benefits is required. For example, the full extent of ecological and ecosystem service benefits – such as improvements in water quality, river flow regulation, flood mitigation, sediment control, visual amenity, and fire risk reduction  – are not yet fully measured and/or apparent.
Shaping the future - The Tree-preneuer model, on-site research, and reforestation hub

EThekwini Municipality adopted an innovative forest restoration approach termed the ‘Indigenous Trees for Life’ concept that was developed and pioneered by the Wildlands Conservation Trust. The concept involves the training of Tree-preneurs within beneficiary communities. Facilitators teach the Tree-preneurs how to grow and care for indigenous tree seedlings in ‘home nurseries’ until these reach a suitable height. Initial training is done within the community area, and ensures transfer of knowledge about where to collect seeds and how to grow them. Ongoing support and mentoring continues through-out the project. Trees are traded for credit notes, which can be used to purchase groceries, bicycles, building materials, or to pay for school fees or vehicle driving lessons. In addition, a “sustainable livelihoods” approach aims to develop livelihood generation through training community entrepreneurs in local food production techniques. To further enhance and bolster these benefits, a Reforestation Centre of Excellence was established at the Buffelsdraai Reforestation project site. This centre will showcase the innovative reforestation techniques, on-site research by local students, and use of sustainable technologies in the building itself.

Enabling factors
  • The Wildlands Conservation Trust as the appointed implementing partner who oversees all tree growing and tree planting operations through the application of their ‘Indigenous Trees for Life’ model.
  • The construction process of the Reforestation Hub Centre has already generated many local job opportunities.
  • A partnership with the local university that encourages research into a range of relevant topics, including ecological restoration, climate change adaptation and socio-economic development.
Lesson learned
  • The project ensures local job creation and active upskilling of community members, including development of entrepreneurial skills and transfer of knowledge about how to manage climate-related risks.
  • Tree-Preneurs who produce large quantities of trees are rewarded with additional training courses and experiential learning opportunities.
  • The Indigenous Trees for Life model was extended to other environmental sectors; providing opportunities to implement a range of transformative programmes in vulnerable communities. Such opportunities, if sensitive to local ecosystem threats and needs, could benefit cities throughout Africa with the potential to better align their development path with the SDGs.
  • The project could fail if long-term management commitments from local government are not forthcoming. There is a clear need for a systematic risk management approach that highlights positive interdependencies and evaluates and exposes problematic trends over time.

(Douwes et al. 2016).

Shaping change - Towards the eThekwini Municipality’s community ecosystem-based adaptation (CEBA) programme

The Durban CEBA initiative has expanded on the original ecosystem management, and reforestation approaches. This was done by embracing a more holistic understanding of the link between communities and the ecosystems that underwrite their welfare and livelihoods, especially in the face of climate change risks. It involves climate-relevant knowledge transfer, creating local jobs and developing small businesses, all of which help to ensure cleaner, greener and more sustainable neighborhoods. As a result, communities become less dependent on costly utilities and services, and through their direct participation, they become joint owners of  a new green economy sector in Durban. Key elements include:

  • The management and/or restoration of local ecosystems. This is primarily through improving, for example, river flow regulation and erosion control, which can boost climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
  • Ensuring communities understand climate change related risks and how to adapt to and better manage climate related disasters.
  • The upliftment of local communities through the establishment of “green jobs” for the poor and unemployed.
  • The establishment of delivery partnerships between the eThekwini Municipality, other spheres of Government, Businesses, NGOs and local communities.
Enabling factors
  • Ongoing learning process - integration of lessons learnt from local projects, such as the Buffelsdraai Landfill Site Community Reforestation Project and other pilot measures in the Municipality.
  • Framing biodiversity as bio-infrastructure helped to put EbA at the heart of the development debate.
  • Support from politicians and leaders within the municipality.
Lesson learned
  • Experience with the ongoing development of Durban’s Municipal Climate Protection Programme indicates that achieving EBA in cities means moving beyond the conceptualization of a uniform one-size-fits-all approach, of street trees and parks, to a more detailed understanding of the complex ecology of indigenous ecosystems and their resilience under climate change conditions. When healthy, these systems deliver better ecosystem services, as well as jobs for people employed to management them.
  • It also means engaging with the role that this “bio-infrastructure” plays in shaping the quality of life and socioeconomic opportunities of the most vulnerable human communities.
  • Despite the long-term sustainability gains of this approach, implementation in Durban has been shown to be both technically challenging and resource intensive.
  • Large-scale EbA implementation will require changes in the roles, responsibilities and functions of existing local government institutions.

(Roberts et al. 2012)


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.


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.

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
Errol Douwes
Melta Majola, with one of the trees she has grown
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.

Conectar con los colaboradores
Other contributors
Mbali Goge
EThekwini Municipality