South Africa is fighting a R7 billion war – and losing

 ·14 Nov 2022

The South African government has spent over R7 billion between 1998 and 2020 trying to curb the spread of invasive plants, but is still struggling to get them under control, reports Stellenbosch University.

This is according to a review conducted by Brian van Wilgen from the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University, Andrew Wannenburgh from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, and John Wilson from the South African National Biodiversity Institute.

New findings outlined in a recently published science journal showed that South Africa needs a national strategy that focuses on clearly defined priority sites that improve planning and monitoring and increases operational efficiency to stop the progress of invasive plant species.

The researchers reviewed the cost, extent and effectiveness of the management of invasive plants by the government-funded Working for Water programme between 1998 and 2020 – the country’s largest intervention for managing invasive plants and for supporting a range of agencies or individuals who are legally responsible for the control of these invasive species.

According to the researchers, national surveys suggest that plant invasions have continued to grow in range and abundance over the past 20 years.

Researchers found that the problem has become too large for invasive species to be effectively controlled.

“Although R310 million (adjusted to 2020 values) has been spent annually since 1998 to clear invasive plants, and progress has been made in places, we still haven’t won the battle. Several estimates show that to reduce alien plant invasions to manageable levels everywhere, we will need three to seven times more money.”

“It is, therefore, vital that the available funding is used more effectively to achieve control of alien plant invasions in priority areas.”

The researchers said that the government’s Working for Water project, which started with some progress in many areas, has been unable to reach its initial goal of creating 20,000 jobs to win the war against invasive alien plants.

“This mismatch between the dream and reality is partly because sufficient funds were never available – but also because clear goals have not been set, and there are various structural issues which made control less effective than it could have been. Moreover, insufficient monitoring has meant it has been impossible to reliably track the progress that has been made.

However, the researchers remain optimistic about the programme and noted that it has played a positive role in ensuring that invasive alien plants are effectively controlled in (or prevented from invading) defined priority areas, provided that several issues are adequately addressed.

Researchers said that on top of increased levels of funding, high-risk species must be eradicated where possible.

What is invasive

The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SABI) said that there are a total of 559 alien species that are regarded as invasive in South Africa and a further 560 species that are prohibited from being introduced into South Africa.

One of the most well-known invasive plant species is the Jacaranda tree, which has become common – and quite iconic – in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Jacarandas are a category 1b invasive species and compete with and replace indigenous species. They also create dense stands along watercourses that are likely to reduce stream flow.

Invasive plants are broken down into the following categories:

  • Category 1a – Invasive species requiring compulsory control. Remove and destroy. Any specimens of Category 1a listed species need, by law, to be eradicated from the environment. No permits will be issued.
  • Category 1b – Invasive species requiring compulsory control as part of an invasive species control programme. Remove and destroy. These plants are deemed to have such a high invasive potential that infestations can qualify to be placed under a government-sponsored invasive species management programme. No permits will be issued.
  • Category 2 – Invasive species regulated by area. A demarcation permit is required to import, possess, grow, breed, move, sell, buy or accept as a gift any plants listed as Category 2 plants. No permits will be issued for Cat 2 plants to exist in riparian zones.
  • Category 3 – Invasive species regulated by activity. An individual plant permit is required to undertake any of the following restricted activities (import, possess, grow, breed, move, sell, buy or accept as a gift) involving a Category 3 species. No permits will be issued for Cat 3 plants to exist in riparian zones.

A full list of invasive species and their relevant categories can be sourced from Invasive Species South Africa, here.

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