Together with the South African National Parks, Kuzuko Lodge has been busy with a delicate eco-friendly agri-initiative to convert desert into natural terrain, via the cultivation and plantation of an indigenous succulent jade plant, also known as “Elephants Bush” (Portulacaria Afra). Thousands of hectares of indigenous vegetation has been decimated over the past century by the over grazing of goats and the encroachment of alien vegetation. This has reduced the land to desert and wiped out natural feeding areas for the indigenous game like elephant and black rhinos.
Time for an intervention
To counter act this, our reserve launched a massive eco-friendly intervention, where we cleared 250 hectares of alien vegetation and began planting the magical indigenous dwarf jade plant, also known as spekboom. After 150 years, we have been able to introduce from 2005, elephant and black rhino to the Kuzuko reserve. Additional game like buffalo and antelope, followed by predators, were introduced in phases from 2007.
Restoring what was lost
When ecosystems are poorly managed, top soils erode, plant cover is reduced and the carbon residing in the soils and the plants is lost into the atmosphere. In the case of the Eastern Cape thicket, millions of hectares of dense, forested land have been degraded – and ‘turned into desert’ – by excessive goat farming over the last century and a half, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide. Now, together with the South African National Parks, wildlife farmers, the government, academics, goat farmers, and the Kuzuko reserve are collaborating to bring back the jade plant thicket and the carbon via the plantation of the succulent “elephant bush”, which is funding the on-going restoration of the Eastern Cape.
When thicket is restored by planting cuttings of the succulent Elephant’s Bush, the carbon comes rushing back from the air, into the soil and plants. This enables carbon credits to be generated and it is these carbon credits which can be used by large multinationals to offset their carbon emissions, and achieve ‘carbon neutrality’. To do this, large corporates need proof that the carbon has indeed been captured and that the environment has not been damaged in the process.
Gold level status
This fusion of technology with indigenous botanicals is what Kuzuko Lodge Private Game Reserve Thicket Restoration Project has recently managed to accomplish. However, the Kuzuko project has gone one step further and earned CCBA Gold Level status for ‘exceptional biodiversity benefits’, which is granted only to projects that “simultaneously address climate change, support local communities and conserve biodiversity”.
Local communities given jobs
More than 5000 hectares of existing brown desertified land, bordering the Addo Elephant National Park, will be transformed back to a productive, green landscape that is intact Eastern Cape subtropical thicket. To achieve this, over 100 people from local communities will be given jobs for three to five years, to plant two and a half thousand cuttings of the spekboom per hectare. Once the cuttings start growing, new topsoil is generated as the trees shed their leaves and giant earthworms in these ecosystems return to eat the leaf litter, other indigenous plants move back into the ecosystem, and more indigenous animals return to the Kuzuko reserve.
The animals return
A dense thicket is the preferred habitat for wildlife such as elephant, black rhinoceros, kudu and buffalo, so when the Elephant’s Bush covers the landscape, these herbivores thrive; and so, in turn, do predators such as lion and leopard. The brown desertified landscape is turned into a lush green landscape abundant with wildlife animals and returning birds.
Blue chip carbon credits
The funding and employment of over 100 local community workers working to clear lands and plant Elephant Bush, lies in the generation and awarding of blue chip carbon credits to multinationals wanting to offset their carbon emissions, by purchasing Kuzuko’s 2.1 million blue chip carbon-biodiversity credits. It is the funds from these sales which will pay for the restoration of the Kuzuko reserve.
Presently carbon credits are largely associated with either renewable energy projects like wind farms, hydro-power dams, biogas from landfills, biofuels and solar power projects or where vast tracts of rainforest are conserved as opposed to deforested. The Kuzuko reserve project differs from all of these projects because instead of preventing further emissions of carbon into the atmosphere, it ‘sucks carbon out of the atmosphere’; and instead of preventing damage to ecosystems it ‘heals damaged ecosystems’.