Project Stance

South Africa is a water scarce country that is predicted to have a 17% deficit (supply to demand) by 2030. As a country, we are already experiencing extreme water events exacerbated by prolonged droughts. We are going to have to work together across all sectors of society to manage our water better.

Unless innovative and collaborative solutions are immediately implemented, South Africa is going to have to start making much harder choices about where water gets allocated. Business, labour, civil society and government have a shared interest in ensuring that maximum natural flows are achieved, that water is allocated to the best uses and that it is not polluted and is usable. The notion of ‘water stewardship’ talks broadly to looking after something that does not belong to us for the benefit of current and future generations.

Given the enormity of the environmental challenges facing us, it is important to achieve scale and sustainability off the back of any successful project in the shortest possible timeframe. Water scarcity and quality issues have significant implications for environmental sustainability, economic development and social justice.

The protection and restoration of natural capital, or the many environmental services, on which our societies and economies depend, is becoming vitally important. Persistent droughts, periodic flooding, wildfires, soil quality and erosion, biodiversity loss and the degradation of agricultural land are all impacted on by invasive alien plants. It is estimated that IAPs cost the South African economy R6.5 billion annually (2008 figure) and that these losses could have been as high as R41.7 billion without IAP control. Although difficult to calculate due to market failures regarding the valuing of environmental services, these figures point to the importance of IAP removal.

In addition, an emerging discourse globally and in South Africa is broadly referred to as the green economy.  This discourse encompasses a wide range of ideological positions which some authors have referred to as ‘safe and just spaces for humanity’ and are linked to definitions of the green economy as ‘low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive’. Synergies need to be identified between existing, disparate efforts and projects and an economy that is restorative of natural capital, inclusive of marginalised and resource-poor communities and generative in terms of financial and infrastructure capital.

An overlay of the impact of alien invasive plants, the potential of the biomass economy, and the need to address unemployment, poverty and inequality opens up a more systemic approach to adding value to IAP clearing.

The woody biomass that is available as a by-product of the clearing of alien invasive plants needs to extend beyond the timber currently being harvested for chips, charcoal, pallets and pulp-logs. Several studies have suggested that there are additional opportunities for value creation in the IAP biomass value chain. These opportunities are likely to increase as the demand for wood-based products increases based on global trends including a shift towards a bioeconomy to alleviate our reliance on fossil fuels. This expansion of opportunity for value addition introduces increased opportunity for innovation, new market development, sustainable value creation and job creation. The products’ hierarchy and other considerations are summarised in the following figure.

LEAD Associates seeks to work with stakeholders to achieve the following:

  1. Of vital importance is to focus initially on getting the corporate governance right and then refining the strategic business model – An operation of this size needs a governing entity with the knowledge, skills, diversity and independence to guide the strategic development to establish a green economy.

  2. Repositioning existing efforts as a broader Invasive Alien Plant Value Chain – Vertically and horizontally integrate current projects. This includes the need to build cross-departmental relational capital that includes the direct involvement of all stakeholders.
    The first step in this process would be a value chain mapping process that identifies components of the value chain and shows how they link. The development of the value chain and related actor maps will need to be done iteratively with Point 3 below. Based on the results of this mapping process, links will need to be made with the planning of identified government departments. For example, the Department of Science and Technology is currently developing a road map for the circular economy in South Africa and a strategic engagement that positions the Invasive Alien Plant value chain within this road map will be important for ongoing engagement with DST.

  3. Different components of the value chain need to be strategically clustered along the lines of industrial symbiosis with a direct line-of-sight to a green economy – The current focus of the VAI initiatives is missing many opportunities for the creation of synergistic advantage. Greater integration with regard to the use of residual materials, energy, water, assets, logistics, expertise, etc. needs to be done strategically as part of the overall design of the programme. This process will reduce current transport costs, the accumulation of waste and loss along the value chain.
    The various manufacturing processes for the different products now need to be organised in such a way that the ‘waste’ from one process feeds directly into the feedstock of another process.

  4. The potential of sustainable public/private/community supply chain management needs to be unlocked – Given the many market failures in valuing the environmental and social benefits of the programme and the potential to create positive externalities through the value-added industries, there is a need to secure procurement support.
    By positioning the programme within the green economy discourse and highlighting the value creation across multiple capitals, it should be possible to move beyond the current tendency to focus narrowly on price.As part of this process, criteria related to water security, biodiversity restoration and the environmental and social transformation of a strategic sector such as the furniture industry could be developed for inclusion in supply chain management decisions.

  5. Formal recognition of the longer-term employment within EPWP and thus opportunity for more cumulative training and capacity development – The current format of the EPWP is not aligned with the persistent and increasing unemployment in South Africa. The extended value chain associated with IAP biomass has the potential to develop new models of longer-term employment as well as education and job progression within an integrated cluster of industries.

    As has been noted in the contextual considerations, natural capital, and particularly the impact that IAPs have on catchments, biodiversity, soil quality and particularly water resources, has been central to the development of the VAI. It is important to reiterate at this point that the estimated IAPs cost to the South African economy is R6.5 billion annually (2008 figure) and that these losses could have been as high as R41.7 billion without any IAP control measures. The general focus of the Value-Added Industries remains:

  6. Strengthening community-public-corporate sector partnerships: Ensure the most suitable business-models and plans are developed, and that cost and/or inclusive value-add assessments are undertaken prior to investing in an activity and operation. Systems adopted should be lean and efficient, wherever feasible (Isa, 2016; Stafford, 2017; Stafford et al., 2016). Given the link with the EPWP programme, most research undertaken to date, strongly recommends that the feasibility of programmes and operations are dependent on cost sharing along the value-chain. Building positive linkages between the public and private sectors is needed to enhance the potential for sustainable job creation based on economic, social and environmental value creation.

As has been noted in the contextual considerations, natural capital, and particularly the impact that IAPs have on catchments, biodiversity, soil quality and particularly water resources, has been central to the development of the VAI. It is important to reiterate at this point that the estimated IAPs cost to the South African economy is R6.5 billion annually (2008 figure) and that these losses could have been as high as R41.7 billion without any IAP control measures. The general focus of the Value-Added Industries remains:

  • Generate income to offset some or all of the costs of IAP clearing;
  • Utilise sunk capital and existing infrastructure to establish biomass nodes within an industrial symbiosis structure;
  • Develop innovative processes and products that add value to IAP biomass and thus have the potential to create new, meaningful jobs;
  • Build relationships across government departments and other stakeholders that support sustainability; bringing environmental, social and economic dimensions together;
  • Provide income for resource poor individuals and support capacity development that enhances peoples’ existing capital and employability; and
  • Enhance environmental quality and ecosystem services through the restoration of areas infested by alien invasive plants.

This discourse describes clearly what LEAD Associates endeavours to achieve. By highlighting the economic potential of what, until now, has been viewed as a waste product with no value but has the potential to develop new economic value and market potential in relation to IAP clearing at a localised level. This in turn created the potential to create and sustain new job opportunities in the green economy. More specifically, the potential to develop an integrated industrial symbiosis model that created the maximum value from IAP biomass is being highlighted through the extended value chains developing within the biomass economy.

With the correct governance structures, community engagement, stakeholder participation and private sector partners, the biomass economy can provide strategic orientation in terms of opening new opportunities to the economy and socio-economic inclusion through the extended IAP value chain.

In order to upscale environmentally beneficial projects, LEAD Associates has as another of its core functions the development and implementation of App-based technologies to improve in-field management as a means to ensure contracted productivity levels are achieved and, also, to significantly reduce incorrect reporting and the abuse of resources.

Build and maintain a national, open access, collaborative platform underpinned by a well-informed vision supported by multiple stakeholders.