Please find here ACB’s submission to the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment regarding the recently published Draft White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity, 2022. 

The current conservation model and practice are founded on historical colonial practices, entrenched in apartheid, of over-exploitation and exclusion of African people. Historical inequalities have remained despite attempts to redress them over the last two decades and South Africa now holds the dishonourable title of being the world’s most unequal nation.

Despite efforts, the biodiversity conservation sector has remained untransformed since South Africa became a democracy in 1994. This Draft White Paper is an ambitious policy that seeks to advance a uniquely South African approach to biodiversity conservation, attempting to shift the paradigm in the sector while aiming to address the systemic challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

A major paradigm shift that this policy offers is its focus on the African philosophy of Ubuntu to guide the future of the biodiversity sector, emphasising an African-centric approach to conservation and sustainable use, beyond the utilitarian and narrow view of the dominant Western, colonial version of conservation. Essentially this affirms the intrinsic value of nature, the interdependencies and in particular the role of humans in caring for nature.

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While the Draft White paper has potential, many elements should either be clarified or removed, due to posing the danger of perpetuating exclusion of the masses and facilitating further exploitation and extraction of biodiversity and our ecological and cultural heritage. The draft policy is fraught with conflicts and contradictions and tends towards the valorisation of biodiversity. Throughout the text, genetic and biological material is essentially to be used to expand the biodiversity economy, i.e. bioprospecting and wild-life. This is incredibly worrying.

The draft policy provides an opportunity to shift the current paradigm of biodiversity conservation nationally, and fashion new thinking and approaches on the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with its emphasis on the African eco-social philosophy of Ubuntu, and human rights-based approaches based on our Constitution, to guide new approaches to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. That said, this requires a radical departure from market-based solutions and clear articulation around what needs to be downscaled and what needs to be upscaled to bring about systemic change.  

Read more here.