Financial Sustainability of the MZCPE – Cycling for Conservation

July 19, 2021

The declaration of protected environments is not a new concept in South Africa. The process of declaration is clear and is supported by legislation and guidelines. The legislation that governs protected environments is the National Environmental Management Act: Protected Areas Act (57 of 2003). It clearly stipulates the reasons one can apply for declaration status, the approvals that need to be granted to gain that declaration status and the requirements that need to be fulfilled post declaration to maintain that status.

Maintaining the Protected Areas status through responsible income generation such as considerate mountain biking events.

The Mountain Zebra Camdeboo Protected Environment (MZCPE) was originally declared on 1 April 2016. One of the most demanding requirements that needed to be fulfilled was that within 12 months from the date of declaration, the management authority had to submit a management plan for approval from the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). The management authority for the MZCPE is the MZCPE Landowner’s Association. DFFE provided a guideline to ensure that the development of the management plan would meet the requirements for it to ultimately be supported and approved. The management plan creation and finalisation also required an in-depth and costly public participation process by law.

The declaration process of the MZCPE was funded through the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) implemented by the Wilderness Foundation from 2012 to 2014. The declaration itself was funded by DFFE. The GEF-5 PA Project funded the creation and approval of the MZCPE Management Plan, which was drafted and facilitated by SANParks and the MZCPE. To get to this point, significant funding was utilised to enable the MZCPE to achieve the minimum requirements. And this does not even include any management plan implementation yet…

This preamble is setting the scene to highlight the conundrum facing most protected environments: the matter of financial sustainability. The scenario above explains that external funders made the initial work possible. The key question now is – How does the MZCPE ensure these processes are maintained once the funders exit the system? One of the components of the GEF-5 PA Project is aimed at investigating how the financial sustainability of the protected area network can be improved.

Sundowners at the Valley of Desolation at the end of day 2 of the RdK ride. 

This was not a new concept for the MZCPE and the matter of financial (and managerial) sustainability has always been behind every decision made. Every document created has allowed for the setting of realistic objectives in terms of the protected environment’s needs and commitments. Various mechanisms have been incorporated into the financial sustainability model of the MZCPE:

1. To use the funding opportunity of the GEF-5 PA project to conduct the mandatory and often expensive baseline studies required in the management plan and also to help the MZCPE build up an inventory of equipment and assets needed to implement some of the management plan projects;
2. to design the management plan in such a way that recognises and assists landowner contribution on individual farms, keeping most land management efforts the responsibility (and cost) of the landowners;
3. to connect the landowners to other conservation organisations responsible for mutual conservation goals and allow the landowners to contribute to provincial or national conservation projects and to benefit from secured external organisational funded programmes; and
4. to get the MZCPE set up to be able to generate an income to achieve the management plan objectives not accomplished through any of the above-mentioned mechanisms.

This story falls under the fourth mechanism of financial sustainability – the Roof de Karoo Mountain Bike Challenge (RdK).

The RdK is a 4-day event that sees mountain bikers traverse the MZCPE from Mountain Zebra to Camdeboo National Park. It’s a stunning but sometimes tough ride that takes the rider through different landscapes and private property. It allows access to areas of the parks and protected environment that no one else gets to ride through. The rider is treated to true Karoo hospitality all the way and the best part of it is, that all profit goes back to conservation!

Camdeboo National Park

The RdK event was the brainchild of the first chairman of the MZCPE, Ed Kingwill. Ed played an integral part in the setting up of the MZCPE and has always been willing to sign himself up for the unknown. Ed is also an avid cyclist and exceptionally passionate about the Karoo and conserving the area for generations to come. It was Ed who put the idea for the event on the table in 2016. Together with the park managers and a team of SANParks staff and willing farmers, the event started to form. At the time Nick de Geode was park manager for Camdeboo National Park and brought to the table all his years of experience with the Desert Knights Challenge held in the Richtersveld. His experience was invaluable and once the GEF-5 PA project gave the permission to use some savings money to buy the necessary equipment and infrastructure, Nick was able to detail a list of what was needed to make it all happen.

While procurement was underway, Ed and his brother Alex started work on developing the route. By April 2017, the MZCPE and SANParks were ready to launch the first RdK. Since then, the event has grown and strengthened after its initial teething phase. The GEF-5 PA project supported the first three events to allow RdK to generate its own operational kitty. With the next event planned, any profit can go straight back to the MZCPE account while maintaining an operational budget for the RdK.

The RdK has become a known event in the cycling community and has seen many faces return each year. The event has developed a family of supporters with many of them booking for the next event while on their way home from the event they just finished!

Happy bikers with a view.

The RdK is not just the flagship event of the MZCPE, but is also seen as a pilot event for other possible events that can be held under the MZCPE banner. Due to the diversity of the landowners of the MZCPE, ideas for other events are just as diverse with talks of possible horse trails, on-road motorbike routes, trail running and 4×4 routes. The MZCPE recognises the tourism and events operated by individual members of the MZCPE and respects those to be the profit of the member conducting it. However, annual collaborative events are envisioned to be for the profit of the MZCPE.

The support of the GEF-5 PA project in the RdK creation and growth period as well as procuring the needed inventory, helped to pave the way forward for not only for the RdK but any other event that may develop under the MZCPE in the future. The equipment is not limited to cycling and currently allows the principle of “if you can dream it, it’s probably possible”.

Traversing new paths for the sustainability of the MZCPE.

The RdK is a true partnership project between SANParks and the MZCPE. Over the years, the two national parks have shown their utmost support for the event and helped to make it possible. Staff from both parks have played integral parts in the event and to date have made up the majority of the in-field support crew. This includes armed rangers that provide convoy through Mountain Zebra National Park, environmental monitors and handyman from Camdeboo who help to manage the camp sets ups and break downs. This event is true to the MZCPE vision of “Conservation through Collaboration”.

With the closure of the GEF-5 PA Project starts the work of ensuring that the MZCPE is set up with all its support structures to enable it to responsibly and legally manage the funds it is now able to generate. This entails developing policies that will allow this group of landowners to allocate and manage these funds as they implement the objectives of the MZCPE management plan.

The Roof de Karoo story is an amazing story of two spheres, conservation and agriculture, coming together for the greater cause. It is unique due to the partnership between SANParks and the MZCPE and it is the first event linking two national parks. The future remains exciting as the MZCPE takes the RdK to new heights and introduces new events as the MZCPE moves from strength to strength.

Cruising together to new heights.