Conserving and increasing biodiversity in the large-scale, intensive farming systems of the Western Cape, South Africa
The Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in 1992 in Nairobi and signed by many states, including South Africa, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro later that year, urges nations to conserve biological diversity. This places a special responsibility on farmers, who own most of the land. Yet agricultural practices usually aim at simplifying ecosystems in favour of the crops (and animals) that are produced. In the Western Cape province of South Africa, this process has resulted in extensive monocultures of wheat, grapevines and fruit trees. The questions arise: should farmers bring more biodiversity back into these systems and, if so, how can they do it? Apart from the moral obligation to do so, perceived benefits include the possibility of greater economic and ecological stability, especially under conditions of global climate change; enhanced aesthetic appeal and greater acceptance of farming practices by the public in general and purchasers of farm produce in particular. Possible disadvantages are short-term losses in productivity and profitability. Measures that will contribute towards increasing biodiversity include: intercropping; the planting and maintenance of shelter belts, buffer strips and natural corridors; retaining riparian and other areas of high value natural vegetation; making dams attractive to wildlife; reducing the impact of pesticides; educating farmers and farm workers about the values of biodiversity conservation; and providing financial incentives to landowners for biodiversity conservation. An overview is provided in this paper of current international and national biodiversity conservation policies and programmes and some of the local initiatives that are active in the Western Cape to protect and re-establish biodiversity.