Dr Bianca Currie, Chair of our Biosphere Reserve, delivered the Chair’s Report at the Annual General Meeting on the 13th December 2019:

It has been a year of transition, consolidation and strategizing for the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve. The transition from the interim board to the reserves first board, who will serve for the next five years, was a lengthy and administratively heavy process. The new board only officially gained control and signing power of the reserve’s bank account mid-2019. We now have a sound decision making body for the Biosphere Reserve. The current board members bring a good mix of skills and expertise to the table. They have helped to provide the Biosphere Reserve with stability and formulated an implementable overarching strategy and a draft communications strategy taking into consideration our limitations and constraints.

The strategy documents have provided the Biosphere Reserve with direction and purpose placing the reserve on a clear set of tracks for the future.

The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve’s overarching strategy
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserves overarching strategy looks at the landscape through a social ecological systems lens and considers our natural and social capitals, our strengths, weaknesses; as well as drivers in the system and threats to our assets. This strategy now consolidates the biosphere reserve efforts into six key focus areas namely: 1) Landscape Management Coordination, primarily focused on facilitating the coordination of alien invasive plant clearing in the Biosphere Reserve;
2) Green Enterprise Mentorship Development, primarily aimed at developing skills and capacity in the youth;
3) School Youth Biosphere Programme, to work with school goers, colleges and universities;
4) Biosphere Membership, to develop the necessary infrastructure to make a connection with stakeholders in the biosphere reserve;
5) Water Pollution, aimed at improving the state of rivers and estuaries in the biospherereserve and especially related to pollution; and
6) Town / Land Use Planning Capacity Development focused on sustainable cities development and improved decision-making regarding land use planning in the Biosphere Reserve.

One of the challenges the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve currently faces is the capacity to be an implementing agent in the landscape. Without funding for dedicated staff, we are limited to playing a co-ordination and facilitation role. We therefore firmly acknowledge the need to work together with our stakeholders. Over the next year the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve endeavours to establish a working group structure made up of stakeholders currently undertaking valuable work in the landscape, within each of the key focus areas. We ask how we can support and strengthen existing agents and action taking place. In the coming year we wish to collaboratively develop key focus area strategies, funding proposals and action plans, building on what our stakeholders are currently doing in each of the areas. We believe our success lies in a bottom-up process working with agents in the landscape.

The Biosphere Reserve also expects to formally establish an advisory group made up of those who lead each of the key focus area working groups. This advisory group will provide a further layer of expertise to inform decision-making related to the biosphere reserve and the activities it engages in. A structure where the board is informed by the advisory group also provides a bottom-up and top-down information channel for communication to flow, allowing decision-makers to be informed by those on the ground; and the decisions being made can filter from the board to the agents in the field.

Draft communications strategy
A second equally important strategy developed for the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve this year was a communications strategy. A draft communications strategy has been formulated which provides a vision and mission statement for the reserve. It includes a draft rapid assessment tool to guide what the Biosphere Reserve communicates on behalf of its stakeholders. The draft vision for the Biosphere Reserve is to connect people and environments for enhanced diversity and wellbeing; and the draft mission is to improve collaborations to support integrated environmental management and equitable development. The draft strategy also expresses who we should be communicating with, what
we should be communicating, and how we should be communicating in light of our limitations.

We are grateful for the small operational funding we have received in the last year from the Department of Environment and Development Planning. However, our primary need in the coming years is to raise funding for the development of the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve, and its growth into an institutional structure that is not limited by its capacity to implement. The working group strategies and funding proposals are our first steps in raising sorely needed funds for collaborative action in the landscape. The operational funding from government will allow us to employ the necessary expertise to ratify the strategies into funding proposals.

In summary, progress has been slow but determined in 2019. We have been transitioning to a new board and strategizing for the future direction of the Biosphere Reserve. The year has been about putting the necessary guiding documents and processes in place while consolidating the governance structure of the reserve. With these vital pieces of the machine in place we have clearer focus and direction with which to move forward. Our priorities next year are to elicit support, develop relationships and partnerships, and work closely with our stakeholders on the ground to raise funding for activities in the landscape.

I believe we now have a plan which sets us on a positive trajectory and together with our stakeholders we can grow and develop the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve into a useful mechanism for sustainable development in our region.

Dr Bianca Currie
UNESCO Garden Route Biosphere Reserve