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Sustainability Research Unit George Campus


On the 22nd and 23rd of March 2017, SRU staff and students went on a field trip from George to Nature’s Valley. The trip started with a guided Knysna township tour with tour guide Mawande (Wandu Tours). Insights on the history of the town and the rapid growth it is experiencing and, particularly in the last 20 years were evident. Tatenda Mapeto


Thesen Island, a high end housing project being one of the main projects that is influencing the growth in the town. The guide also alluded that the township was also growing and living conditions were improving as evidenced by the RDP housing projects.

The tour also included stops at local businesses in the township, a leather shoe making shop, a preschool, a health care centre and the local library. Opportunities to support these local businesses during such tours was one thing that stood out to the SRU team as a way in which growth of a business such as Wandu Tours can have a ripple effect stimulating growth of the local economy.

The sharp contrast of livelihoods in the township and the town was etched on our minds as we went through the township, it wasn’t however given much attention by our tour guide who was geared on telling a good story. The tour ended on a highlight with a Xhosa meal at a BnB ran by Wandu Tours.
From the Knysna township tour the SRU team drove to Nature’s valley and camped for the night in the forest at the Sanparks rest camp.

The morning of the 23rd started on an early note as we were hosted by the Nature’s Valley Trust (NVT) Director, Dr Mark Brown. Working in close collaboration with the rate payers’ association of the 400 household suburb, the 16-year-old non-profit organisation has made strides in local conservation. Mark talked us through the organisation’s current work in marine conservation particularly on fishing stock depletion and sea birds. Their white-fronted plover #sharetheshores campaign has taken the public by a storm in environmental education as well getting the interest of the usually sceptical academics when it comes to public conservation campaigns.

Mark attributed there successful footprint to key factors including:

1. basing conservation efforts on sound scientific data,

2. noting that human beings are a double edged sword to conservation and leveraging the ability of these social actors to act positively by reaching out to humanity.

3. Acknowledging and acting on the fact that boundary conservation is now a thing of the past and designing systems that incorporate these stakeholder lenses when it comes to conservation.

Mark alluded that the transition from academia to the conservation field is not easy but it however brings with it the solidness of science into local conservation. The challenge always comes on how such models of place based research and conservation can be replicated in other areas, according to Mark the answer lies in training and NVT has already started training other private conservation bodies on designing framework that acknowledges social actors.

From the inspiring NVT story we started our drive back to George and we made our last stop in Sedgefield were we met up with Pam Booth (head of the Eden to Addo alien invasive plants clearing project). Pam took us on a tour to one of the further processing stations where she and her team have partnered with New Carbon a company that turns organic waste (of which cleared alien invasive plants are) into Biochar. They presented that this process is a 2,000-year-old practice converting agricultural waste (in their case cleared alien plant biomass) into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity. Biochar is a solid material obtained from the carbonisation of biomass, the process creates a fine-grained, highly porous char that can be charged with various nutrients depending on need.

The Biochar station was our last stop for the trip and it blew our minds as we reeled in thoughts of how such ideas can be continuously harnessed until their market appreciation value hits the top. A follow up visit was agreed in six months time to see the progress of this exciting innovative idea.
The trip unfolded and presented us social innovation in different forms. And the great thing about innovation in the 21st century is as Olsson and Galaz (2011) put it; from a historical perspective, many of the innovations that today contribute to environmental degradation are the results of attempts to combat social challenges and as such people are now emphasizing the necessity of integrating social and ecological considerations in the innovation processes.

Olsson, P., & V. Galaz (2011): Social-ecological innovation and transformation.In: Nicholls, A. and A. Murdoch (Editors).Social Innovation: Blurring Sector Boundaries and Challenging Institutional Arrangements. Palgrave MacMillan