The Marico Biosphere Reserve
In 2013/14 A Rocha South Africa partnered with the Marico River Conservation Association (MRCA) in the North West Province in the MRCA’s efforts to unite landowners and local communities to establish the Marico Biosphere Reserve.
After many years of intense negotiations with government departments, local stakeholders, tertiary institutions and others the application process was put into motion. In July 2018 during the 30th ICC session of the Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme meeting in Palembang, Indonesia South Africa’s 10th Biosphere the Marico Biosphere Reserve (BR) received UNESCO’s seal of approval and recognition.
The biosphere reserve comprises a unique freshwater ecosystem which includes the Molemane, Molopo and Marico river systems. The ecosystem is characterized by wetlands and a dolomitic system, which constitute a valuable part of South Africa’s natural heritage. The savannah and grassland areas support vulnerable plant species such as Searsia maricoana. The endemic fauna includes 73 species of mammal such as the African elephant, the black rhinoceros and the lion. The main economic activities are subsistence agriculture, livestock, game ranching and tourism. It is one of SA’s prime eco-tourism regions, with this international designation serving to boost its eco-tourism potential further, while increasing economic opportunities for local communities.
As an inherently water scarce region, the management of water resources in South Africa is of critical importance. Fortunately this system holds a class A/B eco-status in the upper catchment, which means it is “least impacted”. With the Biosphere declared this resource is now protected for posterity.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Source to Sea programme says the Groot Marico River has become a flagship river of national importance for its good condition, high biodiversity and cultural value. “While most of South Africa’s water comes from mountain catchments that receive the highest rainfall, the Marico River is extraordinary. The river is quite a unique source area in that the river is fed by a system of groundwater aquifers that maintain regular flows to this dryland river. Thus, the water supply that supports this catchment (and feeds into the Limpopo Basin) is dependent on the health of the groundwater and its recharge area.”
Downstream from the Molemane, Molopo and Marico river systems the river becomes the Limpopo, which provides water to South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Literally millions of lives are dependent on this resource.
Originally 30 000 hectares was earmarked for the Biosphere. As the process developed more landowners have signed on for this legal protection process to form part of an expanded Biosphere Reserve. Among them are a private Nature Reserve and the Provincial Molemane Nature Reserve. In total 447,268 ha is now part of the Biosphere – Core area (s): 21,499 ha; Buffer zone(s): 64,350 ha and Transition zone(s): 361,419 ha.
A Rocha South Africa’s involvement came about through UNDP funding. We were able to support the following programmes in the development towards the Biosphere:
- At the Ecology Field Education Centre on the banks of the Marico River skills training of locals took place and youth camps held.
- An Indigenous Nursery and a Bee-keeping groups were established. Locals were trained providing them alternative livelihoods.
- Beading and Sewing Groups were expanded in the area as a method of providing alternative livelihoods for local and indigenous communities along the river.
- Environmentally sustainable ecotourism “slack packing” hiking routes are being developed with local participation and management.
At least 18 “green” employment opportunities were created that impacted positively on at least another 72 family members. With the new skills the households could now generate their own income.
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