By Mantoe Phakathi
The Minister for Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Hon. Moses Vilakati, launched the framework for Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECM) in the Kingdom of Eswatini on May 07, 2021.
The launch of the OECM Framework follows the Government’s commitment to protecting biodiversity and ecosystems in line with the guiding principles of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), agreed to in 2018.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supported the formulation of the framework under the GEF-funded Strengthening National Protected Area System (SNPAS) project. Through this project, about 18,000 hectares of land have been committed to conservation by communities and private landowners, enabling the country to expand the protected areas system from 3.9 per cent to 5.2 per cent over the past 5 years.
Speaking at the launch, Hon. Vilakati congratulated Eswatini National Trust Commission (ENTC), the lead partner in the implementation of SNPAS, for successfully leading the processes of developing the historic strategic guidelines of the OECMs.
“Eswatini being the first country in Africa and in the world to officially launch the OECM Guidelines proves the country’s commitment to biodiversity conservation,” said Hon. Vilakati, adding: “This is a giant leap in the right direction, more so because it aligns with His Majesty King Mswati III’s vision of the Kingdom of Eswatini to attain the first-world status in the near future.”
Among other provisions, Hon. Vilakati said the guidelines are expected to design and recognise interconnected and sustainable networks of protected areas and OECMs across landscapes. They will also ensure the engagement of a diverse range of rights-holders and stakeholders who are contributing to area-based conservation outside of the formally protected area estate.
“These guidelines are indeed an important step towards the country’s landscape approach to conservation which recognises the connectivity of our ecosystems. This has resulted in collaborative planning that prioritises biodiversity conservation, economic vitality, and social equity,” he said.
He also launched Eswatini Youth Biodiversity Network (EBYN), an initiative led by young people who are determined to protect the country’s ecosystems.
“The Ministry has done its part by assisting EBYN with operationalisation processes including legal registration. It’s now your role to mobilise resources to undertake concrete projects that will change the lives of the youth in the country,” he said.
In a UNDP statement read by the UNDP Economic Advisor Mr Juan Carlos Vilanova, on behalf of the Resident Representative, Ms. Rose Ssebatindira, UNDP congratulated the Government on this bold step adding that this is a big achievement for Eswatini and the global community, because – from nature-based solutions to climate, health issues, food and water security, and sustainable livelihoods – biodiversity is the foundation upon which the country can build back better.
“For example, by protecting a small wetland in Ntondozi or Ngwempsi, more than 390 households are accessing water for livestock and domestic use while women are generating additional income from crafts,” said Ms. Ssebatindira. “This example and many others remind us of our collective responsibility to protect the planet for our prosperity and security.”
Ms. Ssebatindira expressed his appreciation to the communities and private landowners who have made these commitments adding that it demonstrates the value Emaswati attach to biodiversity and nature.
She noted that a number of biodiversity and ecosystems initiatives supported by UNDP have made a significant contribution to expanding protected areas in Eswatini including the adoption of the launched framework.
These efforts include SNPAS which facilitated the development of the Invasive and Alien Plant Species (IAPS) Strategy, Wetlands Policy and Strategy, Integrated Landscape Plans for Ngwempisi, Lubombo and Malolotja, which are providing the needed frameworks for integrating nature-based solutions in national development.
“These efforts are in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and are aligned to the Government of Eswatini’s National Development Strategy,” she said.
She noted that building back better from extreme weather conditions and natural disasters like the recent Tropical Cyclone Eloise requires well-managed biodiversity and ecosystems.
Eight entities – three community-based, four privately-owned and one under the University of Eswatini – were declared OECMs at the same event. They were also awarded grants ranging from the value of E200 000 to E270 000 for the protection of OECMs.
(Mantoe Phakathi is the Communication Specialist at UNDP Eswatini)