Improving Management Effectiveness of the Protected Area Network

Emerging lessons from GEF5-PA project implementation

With the project coming to an end in December 2021, the implementing agencies are sharing their lessons learnt during the project implementation over the past six years. Below is a summary of the five key lessons learnt to promote knowledge transfer. The learnings also contribute towards the sustainability of improved management effectiveness and diverse funding streams of the protected area network in South Africa and beyond.

Top three achievements

The power of collaboration

Externally: bringing different stakeholders together and engaging for collective impact

Internally: the cooperation between the partners and the project management unit (PMU). It created a great support framework for continuous learning and development and sharing impactful interventions in support of each other.

Developing human capital

Absorbing some of the GEF-5 PA project staff into permanent positions in implementing agencies, thereby contributing significantly to sustainability and resilience.

Protected area expansion and boundary verification

1. 26,869 hectares negotiated and are due to be finalised for submission

2. 672,615 hectares were submitted for declaration (pending Ministerial/MEC approval)

3. 121,278 hectares have been declared to date in the project

The target is 197,000 hectares (the national baseline figure at the start of the project was 9,910,695 hectares).

Lessons learnt

The expansion of the PA network, its improved management effectiveness and financial sustainability that was made possible by GEF and UNDP is a big win for conservation efforts in South Africa. This helped the PMU to get everybody together and created a great opportunity for all partners to collaborate in the GEF-5 PA Project.

PA Expansion
  • High-level support and buy-in from park/reserve managers is crucial. Equally important is collaboration and support amongst partners to reach the set targets.
  • Establishing and maintaining excellent relations and goodwill with local communities through communication is key.
  • Declaring a protected area is only the first step towards ensuring that ecologically important areas are protected and conserved. PA expansion is a long term commitment which requires resources to ensure sustainability.
  • A process of co-designing project outputs and outcomes is necessary and should be inclusive of the relevant beneficiaries. This is particularly relevant to PA expansion, which involves transfer of state land, and entering into stewardship agreements (Contract Nature Reserves) with private landowners and community trusts and should also consider the national land reform agenda at present, and resultant impact on land claimants and other beneficiaries.
PA Management
  • In order to ensure effective PA management, planning, co-ordination and strategy alignment between the site, project and regional management is vital. The organisational adoption of an adaptive management framework for protected area management assists this process.
  • Understanding the process of the web-based Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT), which has been adapted for the South African context is crucial in order to apply it effectively.
  • Understanding the landscape and the associated land use is key to being able to scrutinise the level of intervention needed to ensure effective management.
  • Keeping tight control over budget and expenditure is critical.
PA Financial sustainability
  • Conservation efforts have become more complex as agencies try to find innovative ways to be financially sustainable. It is a precarious balancing act to ensure that efforts to ensure financial sustainability do not compromise conservation values, both natural and cultural. The industry requires business minded people who care about nature and get it right for people and the environment. As one of the partner agency’s CFO said: “We must make our money sweat.”
  • Sensitising agencies for interaction with DFFE is important as it has prompted feedback mechanisms of financial sustainability.
  • It is critical for agencies to try and improve the socio-economic benefits associated with becoming a protected area and to report on these benefits.
  • Agencies directing support towards reforming supply chain management and supplier development is necessary for financial sustainability.
  • Regulatory entities, especially SARS need to view conservation management authorities more as a business.
  • The importance of partners coming together. UNDP referred to the partners as the GEF-5 PA family. This is like social capital in the bank. If it wasn’t for the family, the project would have struggled a lot during Covid-19. 
  • The ability to adapt – project partners, alongside the PMU, had to adjust the ‘flightpath’ a couple of times and therefore had their adaptive management capability tested through fluctuating exchange rates, prioritisation of gender equality halfway through the project, improving community beneficiation schemes to demonstrate socio-ecological impact, etc. Even though not explicitly raised as strategic adaptive management, this aspect played a significant role and the ability and inability at times, to implement adaptive management presented various lessons along the way.
  • The need to promote sustainability from the onset of a project. Embedding a project firmly within a partner organisation ensures long term sustainability.
  • The appetite of landowners and communal authorities for expansion and effective management of protected areas should be met with similar enthusiasm by DFFE. There is a need to streamline the declaration process. The focus should shift from regulations towards partnership. The declaration is the start of a partnership and should then move into a formal relationship with regulations suitable for the intention the area was declared for.