The Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve
Nature for Justice
In 2021 Nature For Justice (N4J) partnered with the GOURITZ team in Southern Africa on a program to identify feasible, large-scale opportunities for carbon credit initiatives in the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) and its surrounding areas (see map).
N4J has made two site visits to South Africa and has begun a four-phase research approach including a Rapid Feasibility Analysis and a Detailed Analysis of Selected Option. The process, since its inception in January 2022, has evaluated a number of different carbon sequestration possibilities. The on-going analysis will determine which of the two remaining candidates (see below) offers the most likely long-term investment opportunities in carbon credit yields.
For one of those options, restoration using the Spekboom plant, the program is entering Phase 3 in a joint evaluation with farmers in the Eastern Cape region. There is a particular emphasis on determining the potential for the GCBR and neighboring biosphere reserves have for offering carbon credits as a way to ensure long-term (30-50 years) land restoration and to promote resilience in the communities facing climate change.
Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) is located in the southern part of South Africa, across parts of the Western, Southern, and Eastern Cape. At 3,187,893 hectares (a little more than 12,300 square miles), it is the largest biosphere in Southern Africa.
It is the only area in the world where three global biodiversity hotspots converge: the Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, and Maputoland-Tongoland-Albany hotspots.
Biodiversity hotspots are places where there is a high number (more than 1,500) of endemic species. This means that the species are found only in these areas and do not naturally occur in any other parts of the world.
The GCBR appears to offer many potential carbon credit opportunities, with some indicating the opportunity for sizable expansion in the areas covered.
Progress to Date
During Phase 1 of the program, the below options (of many considered) were identified as potential carbon offset projects:
Renosterveld protection and restoration
Wetlands (Peat and Organic sediments, Pooled mountain seeps)
Of these possibilities, two were chosen for an initial in-depth analysis that is currently underway:
Spekboomveld restoration and
For each of these two options, the analysis includes looking at a number of market, ecological and socio-economic risks and opportunities. The two options above met the criteria as having the most potential for success. In addition, a larger project development map is being developed.
Spekboom is an indigenous succulent native to South Africa. It provides a number of of ecological benefits: it enhances plant succession processes, is a rich carbon sink, and increases both biodiversity and biomass. It can also be used to arrest soil erosion. In addition, Spekboom restoration provides work opportunities for local communities.
To assess feasibility, a 16,000 hectare (about 40,000 acres) project comprised of many partner farmers is proposed, with a 40-year lifespan, and an eight-year initial planting period. In addition to the initial planting, maintenance or supplemental planting will occur between years five and eight to improve the overall survivorship.
Research indicates that survivorship is highly variable across the landscape with survival rates between 20% and 80%. Supplemental planting will occur should the survival rates drop below 70%.
Given that part of the Gourtiz Biosphere is privately owned farmland that expands into the wider region beyond the Biosphere, it was only natural to be part of the joint program. Regenerative agricultural practices will be implemented to ensure soil longevity, promote production yields, and provide for an ecologically sustainable landscape over the long term.
There is also widespread interest in converting to these regenerative agriculture practices by other farmers (currently only about 14% are actively engaged in such practices) both as economically and environmentally positive practices.
Regenerative agriculture includes these practices:
No till farming
Crop residue maintenance
Reduced use of diesel and fertilizer
There are a number of additional environmental benefits from regenerative agriculture. These include increased ground cover to increase rainfall infiltration and reduce run-off resulting in greater dry season stream flows, and lower fertilizer applications to reduce pollution levels in streams.
We plan another site visit in November to kick off Phase 3 of the Spekboom restoration and to discuss next steps for the regenerative agriculture program. Based on the results of the feasibility analysis of both projects we will ascertain whether the use of carbon credit financing is appropriate. Should it succeed, the project would offer upscaling opportunities across the country, and perhaps, in other areas around the world.
Photo credits: Karl Shoemaker 2019 (first 3) and C Stephenson 2022 (4th).