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Invasive Alien Plant Clearing Programs

Invasive alien species are plants, animals and microbes that are introduced into countries, and then out-compete the indigenous species.

Invasive alien species are causing billions of Rands of damage to South Africa’s economy every year and are the single biggest threat to the country’s biological biodiversity.

Invasive alien plants (IAPs) pose a direct threat not only to South Africa’s biological diversity but also to water security, the ecological functioning of natural systems and the productive use of land.

Of the estimated 9 000 plants introduced to this country, 198 are currently classified as being invasive. It is estimated that these plants cover about 10% of the country and the problem is growing at an exponential rate.

The fight against invasive alien plants is spearheaded by the Working for Water (WfW) programme, launched in 1995 and administered previously through the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and now the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

WfW currently runs over 300 projects in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. Scientists and field workers use a range of methods to control invasive alien plants. These include:

  • Mechanical methods - felling, removing or burning invading alien plants.
  • Chemical methods - using environmentally safe herbicides.
  • Biological control - using species-specific insects and diseases from the alien plant’s country of origin. To date, 76 bio-control agents have been released in South Africa against 40 weed species.
  • Integrated control - combinations of the above three approaches. Often an integrated approach is required in order to prevent enormous impacts.

The programme is globally recognised as one of the most outstanding environmental conservation initiatives on the continent. It enjoys sustained political support for its job creation efforts and the fight against poverty.

WfW considers the development of people as an essential element of environmental conservation. Short-term contract jobs created through the clearing activities are undertaken, with the emphasis on endeavouring to recruit women (the target is 60%), youth (20%) and disabled (5%). Creating an enabling environment for skills training is investing in the development of communities wherever it works. Implementing HIV and Aids projects and other socio-development initiatives are important objectives.