For this mid-year update, I was hoping to address you as our stakeholders on a more positive note. However, the COVID-19 global pandemic has indeed changed the world as we know it, turning our lifestyles upside down and disrupting our ‘normal’. The pandemic is impacting on how we work, live, and engage with one another in fundamental ways. It has presented itself not only as a serious health issue, but also a societal one which has revealed deep social chasms across the world. In South Africa, it has brought our vulnerabilities into stark light, especially inequality and food (in)security as our leaders attempt to do their best to balance the economic impacts with the ongoing health risks the pandemic poses.

Although the pandemic can be viewed as a significant disrupter to our social-ecological systems, it can also be seen as an opportunity.  There are several scenarios, all dependent on how leaders, governments and society respond to the virus and its economic aftermath. The pandemic provides us with a window of opportunity to reflect on our world and to refocus our attention on what we value. We can choose to use this crisis to reimagine our futures and create a more humane and better world.  So, in our rush to return to ‘normal’, we should be considering what it is we wish to rush back to. Will we take the chance to change how and what we do?

The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve and its activities have naturally been severely impacted.  We were in the midst of a participatory collaborative strategy development process when the country went into a national lockdown.  The many workshops scheduled during the months of May and June as part of this process have been halted as the methods of engagement are inappropriate for our current times.  Furthermore, the landscape is changing in light of the pandemic and what we were planning for may no longer be the world we find post-COVID.

We considered taking the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) collaborative strategy development process online, as so many engagements have done, but we fear this approach would further marginalise those we so desperately seek to involve.  It seemingly perpetuates the inequalities in our country, favouring those with the ability and access to online engagements and leave the silent voices out of the planning for the future. With this in mind, the GRBR has chosen to put our collaborative strategy development process on hold until such time we can fully engage better reassess what a post COVID-19 world looks like.

Despite the setbacks to our collaborative strategy development process, we nonetheless choose to seize the window of opportunity to reflect, reprioritise and focus on being responsive to the immediate needs of our stakeholders during these tumultuous times.  We are therefore investing our efforts into fundraising for urban food and water security, sanitation and other relevant job creation projects.

We believe our temporary deviation in focus responds to some of the pressing needs in the landscape and works toward making the GRBR more adaptive and resilient going forward.

Sincerely,

Dr Bianca Currie

Chair, Garden Route Biosphere Reserve

The Environmental Education Strategic Planning Workshop Report is now available for download.

This report is focused on the outcomes of the first Youth Environmental Education Workshop held at the Environmental Education Centre at the Garden Route Botanical Gardens on the 26th of February 2020. These notes document the outcomes of the workshop which was primarily aimed at mapping the ‘education landscape’ and identifying gaps and needs in youth environmental education in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve domain.

The first workshop invited participants to introduce their organisation and briefly share with the group their education focus  current activities. A second open discussion was facilitated around the gaps and needs in youth environmental education in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve.

A post-workshop survey eliciting participants’ feedback on the workshop yielded positive responses. Comments included:

• Informative, inspiring and “eye opening” • Good, necessary and important! • Productive • Well-structured and well conducted.

Many participants commented on the fair and open discussion where the diverse stakeholders were given a platform to share their programs and exchange ideas. However, one participant offered constructive criticism and wrote, “some key players were absent” and added that some topics were somewhat broad and irrelevant. The participant stated that for future discussions it would be best to narrow the focus in order to be more productive. Other participants highlighted the need to get teachers involved and that the time-slot for the workshop inhibited their participation.

Workshop outcomes – including opportunities and challenges – will need to be revisited given the COVID-19 impacts on education spaces.

VIEW THE OUTCOMES REPORT HERE

The final report for the Strategic Planning Workshop:

“Identifying and addressing drivers of urbanisation, land use and land use change and capacity building in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve” is now available. 

DOWNLOAD / VIEW HERE

This report comes to you in the light of COVID-19 and as the Country remains in lockdown as a result of efforts to stem the impact of the virus on the healthcare system, and inevitably, on the population. In reviewing the report, please also note the following two quotes, the one from our President, Cyril Ramaphosa and the other from Arundhti Roy, author of the book ‘The God of small things’ (1997).

For billions across the world, and for us here in South Africa, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.  We can no longer work in the way we have before…as South Africans we will need to adapt to a new reality.  As we emerge from this crisis, our country will need to undergo a process of fundamental reconstruction.

~ President Ramaphosa, April 2020, second address to the nation regarding COVID-19 impacts.

…coronavirus had made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worst than a return to normality…. Pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice…our dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

~ Arundhti Roy, April 2020 (Author of the book ‘The God of small things’ (1997)).

We thank you for post workshop comments which we have hopefully captured successfully in this final report.

We ask that you re-read it in the light of COVID-19. We cannot resume the process of looking at the Garden Route without thinking of a new reality and how we must contribute to it. Please consider how we can prepare to engage the process of land use and land use change and capacity building in the terribly unequal world we are now leaving as we step through the portal Arundhti Roy talks of.

Kind Regards
Robert Fincham
Project Leader

In light of the Corona virus / Covid-19 threat and ensuing advice arising from the President’s address (15 March 2020), we regret to inform you that all the workshops (all focus areas) for the GRBR collaborative strategy development process will be cancelled until further notice.

These scheduled workshops include:

Town and land Use Planning
3 April 2020 (Knysna)
15 May 2020 (Jeffreys Bay)

Water pollution
24 March 2020 (Knysna)
8 May 2020 (George)

Education
18 March 2020 (George)
8 April 2020 (George)

We will communicate new dates once the threat has passed and apologize for the inconvenience.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Bianca Currie
Chair
UNESCO Garden Route Biosphere Reserve

Invitation to address water quality issues in the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve

Date: Tuesday 24th March 2020
Venue: Knysna Log-Inn Hotel, 16 Gray St, Knysna Central, South Africa
Link to venue: https://goo.gl/maps/gs7x3REvce29wWdr5 

Workshop Overview
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) is undergoing a collaborative strategy development process, and as part of this process interested individuals and organisation are cordially invited to attend the first of two workshops to identify and contribute to tackling water quality issues within the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve. We hope that our approach will lead to a strong sense of action required at the landscape level, while learning from and working with specific project level work already underway. We are looking for tangible actions that can be taken to conserve our valuable water resources.

The purpose of the first workshop is to:
1. Identify and discuss major threats to water quality in the GRBR domain,
2. Identify existing water quality initiatives, where we invite participants with existing initiatives to give a short (5 minutes) introduction.
3. Ask how we as a community can come together to tackle some of the identified threats and to support existing successful initiatives.

The key outcomes of both workshops are to establish a working group to develop a programme to tackle Water Pollution, which the GRBR will ratify into a proposal document by June 2020.  The proposal will be used to leverage the GRBR as an overarching mechanism to raise funds for coordinated actions by stakeholders in the landscape which are aligned with the vision and mission of the GRBR.

Participants are encouraged to commit to and attend both workshops to ensure continuity and consistency in the development of ideas, knowledge and outcomes.  The workshops will be held on Tuesday 24th of March in Knysna and Friday 8th of May in George.

Registration for the Workshops
Please express your interest in attending as soon as possible, but not later than 19th of March 2020.

 RSVP email to Luzanne Visagie at admin@gardenroutebiosphere.org.za  (or Luzanne.visagie@mandela.ac.za)

Contact Person: Dr Louw Claassens
Email Address: kyss.louw@gmail.com

Please let us know if you would like to occupy a 5-minute slot to introduce your initiative.

Project Team: Bianca Currie, Louw Claassens and Ntombi Vundla

Topic: 2nd Environmental Education Workshop (as part of Strategy Planning for the GRBR)

Date: Wednesday 18th March, 2020
Venue: Garden Route Environmental Education Centre, Garden Route Botanical Garden, George

Workshop Overview
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) cordially invites the participation of all individuals and organisations that are involved in environmental education programs in the Garden Route to collaborate in developing a coordinated approach to youth environmental education within the GRBR. The biosphere reserve seeks to work together with stakeholders and actors in the landscape to collaboratively develop a programme for youth environmental education in the biosphere reserve.

The GRBR has already hosted the first of three workshops, which identified current successes and strengths which can be leveraged as well as gaps and needs in the education landscape that the GRBR youth programme can fill.

The second workshop will consolidate a workable program for the youth based on the success, gaps and needs analysis. The third workshop will be dedicated to finalising a programme and informing a budget as well as identify potential funders the GRBR can target a proposal submission to.

The key outcomes of the workshop series are to establish a working group to develop a Youth Environmental Education Programme which the GRBR will ratify into a proposal document by June 2020.  The proposal will be used to leverage the GRBR to raise funds for coordinated actions by stakeholders in the landscape which are aligned with the vision and mission of the GRBR.

Participants are encouraged to commit to and attend all the workshops to ensure continuity and consistency in the development of ideas, knowledge and outcomes.  The second workshop will be held on Wednesday 18th of March and the third on Wednesday the 8th of April in George at the Garden Route Environmental Education Centre.

Registration for the Workshops
Please express your interest in attending as soon as possible, but not later than 15 March 2020, by sending an rsvp email to Luzanne Visagie at admin@gardenroutebiosphere.org.za or Luzanne.visagie@mandela.ac.za

Contact Person: Monica Vaccaro
Email address: monica@landmarkfoundation.org.za
Project Team: Bianca Currie, Monica Vaccaro

Topic: Strategy Planning for Environmental Education in the Biosphere Reserve
Venue: Garden Route Environmental Education Centre, George
Dates: Wednesday 26th of February, Wednesday 18th of March and Wednesday 8th of April, 2020.
Draft Program: Click to view here: DRAFT Program for Environmental Education workshop 26 Feb 2010

Workshop Overview
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) cordially invites the participation of all individuals and organisations that are involved in environmental education programs in the Garden Route to collaborate in developing a coordinated approach to youth environmental education within the GRBR. The biosphere reserve seeks to work together with stakeholders and actors in the landscape to collaboratively develop a programme for youth environmental education in the biosphere reserve.

The GRBR will be hosting a series of 3 workshops. The first workshop aims at identifying current successes and strengths which can be leveraged as well as gaps and needs in the education landscape that the GRBR youth programme can fill. The second workshop will consolidate a workable program for the youth based on the success, gaps and needs analysis. The third workshop will be dedicated to finalising a programme and informing a budget as well as identify potential funders the GRBR can target a proposal submission to.
The key outcomes of the workshop series are to establish a working group to develop a Youth Environmental Education Programme which the GRBR will ratify into a proposal document by June 2020. The proposal will be used to leverage the GRBR to raise funds for coordinated actions by stakeholders in the landscape which are aligned with the vision and mission of the GRBR.

Participants are encouraged to commit to and attend all three workshops to ensure continuity and consistency in the development of ideas, knowledge and outcomes. The workshops will be held on Wednesday the 26th of February, Wednesday the 18th of March and Wednesday the 8th of April in George at the Garden Route Environmental Education Centre.

Registration for the Workshops
Please express your interest in attending as soon as possible: send an RSVP email to Luzanne Visagie (admin@gardenroutebiosphere.org.za) before 23rd February 2020.

Draft Program (Click here): DRAFT Program for Environmental Education workshop 26 Feb 2010

Contact Person: Monica Vaccaro
Email Address: monica@landmarkfoundation.org.za
Project Team: Bianca Currie, Monica Vaccaro (Coordinator)

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.

Funding
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.

Summary
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
Chair
UNESCO Garden Route Biosphere Reserve