Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and the Grootbos Foundation have adapted to support the food security issues and internet access for learners in the Cape Floral Kingdom, South Africa

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and the Grootbos Foundation have adapted to support the food security issues and internet access for learners in the Cape Floral Kingdom, South Africa

Transforming Vision Into Action - On the Ground

16 December 2020

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve is an easy two hours from Cape Town international airport, in the Overstrand region of the Western Cape, close to the southern tip of Africa. It is located in the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest, but most biodiverse of the world’s vegetation types. The region was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 2014 and is considered a hotspot in terms of conservation by conservationists the world over. Beyond the 2 500 hectares of the Grootbos reserve, the conservation efforts of Grootbos, together with the Grootbos Foundation conservation team and the conservancy extend over 21 000 hectares across the region. The conservation vision is to protect and conserve this area into perpetuity.

Due to the dramatic beauty of the region, tourism is a strong economic driver for the region, contributing both economically and in terms of employment. As a luxury eco-tourism product in this region, Grootbos enjoyed  over 70 % occupancy in 2019 and employs 107 from the surrounding local communities. With the onset of the COVID pandemic, South Africa implemented a strict national ‘lockdown’ as early as the 27th of March 2020. The borders were closed, tourism came to a halt and the fallout in the communities was instantaneous. Jobs were lost, schools were closed, unemployment escalated dramatically and many in communities surrounding Grootbos Private Nature Reserve were not certain where their next meals were coming from. South Africa shed a total of 2.2 million jobs in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of 2020.

Despite the tourism entity in crisis, the Grootbos Foundation responded to the growing crisis in the local communities and transformed an early learning facility into a feeding scheme hub. Staff that were previously guides or sports coaches have been chopping, stirring and cooking ever since. Over 300 000 meals have been supplied into the community to assist those in need. Menu’s and meals have been carefully thought through and comprise three vegetables, a protein and a starch base. In addition to this, we initiated a ‘home pack’ delivery to those families that needed to quarantine. Over 504 home packs have been delivered to date. They are designed to sustain a family of four, for two weeks. We are also planning deliveries to families in need to support them over the Christmas period.

Part of the COVID regulations in South Africa stipulate that the wearing of masks is mandatory and compulsory in public. To safeguard our crowded communities and to support fledgling seamstress entrepreneurs, we have supported a community mask project. Over 15 356 masks have been supplied into the community and 21 seamstresses have been supported during the last 8 months.

School children in critical school years, also approached the Foundation, early into the national lockdown period. In the community township environment, learners often don’t have a dedicated space to do school work and whilst some school work was coming through educational platforms to smart phones, learners did not have the data to download the work. In response to this, the Foundation has set up a ‘classroom’, at our closed early learning facility, with a mentor, our hockey coach, Shereen Van der Merwe, always in attendance, to ensure the correct COVID protocol is maintained and to assist learners in tackling the school work they set. This facility has been invaluable to learners and students committed to achieving their educational goals. The ‘classroom’ continues even as lockdown measures have eased, as many students have only partially returned to school (3 days a week).

As lockdown eased and schools were able to reopen, the prescriptions set for the sanitation requirements in schools were stringent and many of our under resourced schools did not have the means to procure thermometers, sanitizer and disinfectant. The Foundation has assisted 10 local Overberg schools to assist in ensuring the school environments are as safe as possible.

The work of our conservation team has managed to continue throughout COVID, as much of the work is outside in the field. During COVID we discovered and confirmed a completely new plant species to science found on the reserve. There are now seven new species completely new to science found on the Grootbos Reserve and over 860 plant species documented on Grootbos alone.  The continuation of this work has only been made possible by the committed support of our dedicated conservation donors.

Our conservation work is ordinarily supported and made possible by a combination of tourism levies and donor funding. With the onset of COVID, the tourism levy portion of funding fell away. To ensure our key conservation work could continue, we realigned our focus and we continued our conservation work supported by our longstanding donors who are committed to funding over a number of years.

As the COVID crisis eases, we hope that tourism will resume and that the tourism sector will recover.  We are not certain when that will be and the ebbs and flow of the pandemic continue. Grootbos and the Grootbos Foundation remain committed to the community and will remain adaptable in the face of the turbulent tourism industry and uncertain times. The feeding scheme will continue to support the youth that come to our sports programmes. The learners will continue to have a dedicated space. The Foundation will continue to support the under resourced local schools wherever possible. In this altered landscape, the Grootbos Foundation has also decided to focus on small business owners and budding entrepreneurs. The aim is to focus our support in particular on our employability and entrepreneurship programme. These small businesses are critical in regenerating economic activity and creating a more resilient community.

Grootbos, together with the Grootbos Foundation, are active partners to the community and work with the local government and leadership structures, to best serve the community needs.  This integration in the community and legacy of partnership is apparent and needed now more than ever before.

This article for Transforming One Planet Vision into Action has been brought to you by the Grootbos Foundation. The Grootbos Foundation was initially formalised with the creation of the Grootbos Foundation Green Futures vocational college in 2003, and the work of the Foundation has since grown to include projects that include skills training, social enterprise development, early learning centres and sport for development programmes, benefitting over 10 000 beneficiaries per annum.  The Grootbos Foundation is the non-profit arm of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, it is a separate legal entity and a registered non-profit, with a legacy of over 15 years of work in the surrounding communities.  Grootbos remains the most significant donor to the Grootbos Foundation and contributes substantially to the overhead expenses of the Grootbos Foundation. Grootbos Private Nature Reserve’s support ensures that funds raised through donations create the maximum impact for the beneficiaries and conservation projects. Visit Grootbos Foundation website.