Cablegate: South Africa Establishes National Biodiversity

Published: Tue 7 Dec 2004 02:10 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: South Africa establishes National Biodiversity
REF: Pretoria 2001
1. On December 2, Minister of Environmental Affairs and
Tourism (DEAT) Marthinus Van Schalkwyk officially
launched the South African National Biodiversity
Institute (SANBI) at Pretoria's National Botanical
Gardens. The institute came into being in September
2004, transforming from the National Botanical Institute
(NBI) and taking on expanded responsibilities beyond the
plant kingdom. The change resulted from new
environmental legislation (reftel) signed into law in
June 2004 that established SANBI's mandate and
responsibilities in respect to South Africa's fauna and
flora. Key responsibilities of the institute include
reporting the status of biodiversity and all listed and
protected species and ecosystems. SANBI controls and
maintains all eight of South Africa's botanical gardens,
and will collect and disseminate information on
biodiversity, as well as maintain a biodiversity
National Spatial Biodiversity Assessment
2. In his keynote address at the SANBI launch ceremony,
Minister Van Schalkwyk told attendees that his department
has commissioned SANBI to facilitate an ongoing "National
Spatial Biodiversity Assessment" (NSBA). The purpose of
the exercise is to identify spatial biodiversity priority
areas for conservation action. The NBSA will contain
marine, terrestrial, river and estuary components. The
products of NSBA will include reports on the status of
the ecosystem, analysis of species of special concern,
socio-economic opportunities and constraints on
biodiversity. The Minister regards the NSBA as the top
priority for SANBI. Initial work on the NSBA began early
in 2004 and identified nine priority action areas. The
national and provincial cabinets have already approved
the draft document of the assessment, which is likely to
be published early in 2005. SANBI has also established a
biodiversity center in Pretoria, which will function as a
global hub for biodiversity (Note: South Africa is
considered to be one of the world's most biodiverse
countries. End note). The institute will continue the
mission of the NBI to provide environmental education to
communities and schools, and carry out research projects
and conservation activities.
Environmental awareness, poverty relief programs for
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3. Minister Van Schalkwyk also stated that plants and
animals of Southern Africa have provided food, fuel,
medicine and shelter to the people for many centuries,
and because of their tremendous contributions they have
to be continuously protected. He said his department
awarded R70 million or about USD 12 million (US$ = R5.70)
to SANBI for the next three years to develop and
implement a "Greening of the Nation Program." The
program aims to rehabilitate degraded land, combat air
pollution, develop indigenous gardens in schools and
prevent the extinction of indigenous medicinal plants and
trees. The greening program will be run in Gauteng,
KwaZulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces.
SANBI will also receive R40 million to top up a R60
million fund received in the last three years for
upgrading botanical gardens, according to the Minister.
The Minister pledged to continue the Poverty Relief
Project, one of the projects inherited from NBI, which
helped create 826 jobs and develop 58 Small, Medium, and
Micro Enterprises (SMME) in 2003-4. The Minister said
that his department will inject an additional R28 million
to the next phase of the project (2005-6). This
financial boost will help create 50 more jobs in the
national gardens.
SANBI Administration
4. SANBI is a statutory body funded by the Department of
Environmental Affairs and Tourism and other local and
international donors. The chairman of the institute is
Ms. Bongiwe Njobe, who serves as Director-General in the
National Department of Agriculture. SANBI has eight
gardens in four provinces. An official of SANBI told EST
Assistant that discussions are underway to plan the
establishment of another garden in the Eastern Cape.
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