‘Take care of Mother Nature, and she will take care of you’


The head of South Africa’s UN Environment Office was in Brussels last week for the Flemish government’s Stakeholders Consultation, where development partners discussed agriculture and climate change

Solving past mistakes

By working together with nature instead of just extracting its resources, communities in South Africa can much better benefit from the country’s natural resources as well as take on the effects of climate change. That is the idea behind a project in South Africa supported by Flanders and presented at the Flemish government’s second Stakeholders Consultation for development co-operation last week in Brussels.

Every two years, Flanders’ foreign affairs department – which co-ordinates the region’s development co-operation policy – brings together stakeholders in the development sector to exchange knowledge and experiences. The region’s development co-operation policy focuses on three partner countries – South Africa, Malawi and Mozambique – and three fields – agriculture and food security, health care and climate change.

Last week’s meeting offered concrete advice on implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which guide the political agendas of UN member states until 2030. By highlighting inspiring initiatives, the Stakeholders Consultation aims to spur partners both inside and outside of Flanders into action.

Dependent on natural resources

One exemplary initiative is South Africa’s project promoting the “Ecosystem-based Adaptation” strategy, to which Flanders has contributed €1 million. Cecilia Njenga (pictured above), head of the UN Environment Office in South Africa, explains how it helps communities in rural areas that are mainly dependent on natural resources.

Flanders Today: What is Ecosystem-based Adaptation?

Cecilia Njenga: It stands for measures that use the beneficial capacities of nature to deal with ecological problems, like those caused by climate change. Too often, nature is exploited in an unsustainable way, so that the environment of rural communities is damaged. Think for example of over-fertilisation leading to soil unfit for agriculture, water polluted by industrial enterprises and mining activities carried out without any consideration given to the surrounding biodiversity.

We want to involve local communities in the management and recovery of, among others, their forests, rivers and mountains. Concrete measures can be very simple, like the planting of new trees. But we also want to identify technological innovations to restore ecosystems, with the help of partner organisations.

The central philosophy is: If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us. We urgently need to take action because climate change has very dangerous effects.

FT: Can you give an example of a climate change consequence?

CN: There was recently a water crisis in Cape Town because prolonged drought drained the city of its water supply. I believe the reality hit home this time; people realised that even the best infrastructure is useless without Mother Nature’s contribution.

I was struck by the beneficial influence of provincial and local governments in Flanders

- Cecilia Njenga, UN Environment Office

A big problem is that many families were so dependent on the municipality that they were completely unprepared for such a disaster. Our project aims to improve the resilience of communities, which in this urban case means that families maintain a water supply for emergencies at home.

FT: How do you see the role of the federal government?

CN: There are many good environmental initiatives taking place all over South Africa, but there is no national framework to draw conclusions and make recommendations. We are pushing for a national agenda on Ecosystem-based Adaptation, trying to convince the government to adjust its policy and investment strategy accordingly.

FT: What did you get out of the Stakeholders Consultation?

CN: I was struck by the beneficial influence of provincial and local governments in Flanders. National governments are often too detached  from the actual situation on the ground, but provincial and local governments can quickly and efficiently offer communities assistance adjusted to their needs. I think we need to tap more into the potential of this mid-level in South Africa.

Photo: Cecilia Njenga at the Stakeholders Consultation at Flemish government headquarters in Brussels
(c)Courtesy FDFA/Flickr

This article is the third in a three-part series on Flanders’ Stakeholders Consultation