Members of the Board of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) recently visited UKZN research sites in Swayimane. These sites form part of the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP), an initiative supported by the global Adaptation Fund and administered by SANBI in partnership with the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The URP is led by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) with UKZN as a sub-Executing Entity, acting through the UKZN Foundation.
Mr Steve Camp of the UKZN Foundation welcomed guests and thanked SANBI Board members for making the time to visit the project. A video featuring community members was shown to give visitors an overview of the project.
Dr Joseph Matjila, Chair of the SANBI Board, thanked the URP project team on behalf of the Board for arranging the visit to demonstrate to SANBI what the project is achieving. He also acknowledged UKZN, the UMDM and community members in the project areas for their work.
‘Work at local government is where real difference is made,’ said Matjila. ‘Climate change is a big issue in our lives, and this project has value as an enabler for the municipal planning system. We want to empower our local authorities in dealing with the realities of climate change,’ added Matjila.
Representatives from the UMDM also spoke about the synergies of the Biodiversity and Land Use Project underway in the district with the URP, highlighting the importance of ecological infrastructure, restoration projects and capacity building. Both projects emphasise the creation of municipal planning tools.
UKZN project leader, Professor Albert Modi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, gave a presentation emphasising UKZN’s objectives in reducing the vulnerability of people so that they are resilient to climate change, with the ultimate goal being the creation of sustainable agro-ecosystems.
The Mayor of uMgungundlovu District Municipality, Thobekile Maphumulo, also addressed guests, saying that the added pressure of climate change and extreme meteorological events on an already strained economy would affect the most vulnerable communities.
‘Life under a changing climate is going to be tough if we do not act now to capacitate our community or respond proactively,’ said Maphumulo, who also emphasised the importance of public participation.
The URP aims to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities in the greater uMngeni catchment through interventions such as early warning systems, climate-smart agriculture and climate-proofing.
Following presentations, guests were shown the Agrometeorological Instrumentation Mast (AIM) and lightning warning systems installed at Swayimane High School, as well as crop trials and tunnels that facilitate climate-smart agriculture research. Community members gave SANBI members a warm welcome and displayed their crops and products.
URP researchers are creating platforms for reflecting on how South Africa, specifically different spheres of government, is preparing and responding to climate change induced disasters. They have hosted several workshops to build capacity in local government and have brought together partners and contributors from across South Africa and the globe to take research to where it is most needed.
Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod