Our work on USAID: RESILIM O aims to improve how the Olifants River Basin is managed. The Olifants and its contributing waterways are critical for supporting life in the area, yet unchecked pollution, inappropriate land and resource use, weak and poorly enforced policies and regulations, and poor protection of habitats and biodiversity are degrading the Olifants at an alarming rate.
We’ve bound the system according to our key focus areas, but in taking a systemic approach, this doesn’t mean we ignore what’s outside of those bounds. This can help make explicit things that we can’t change, but which may influence or have an impact in the areas where we work.
More about bounding the system
“Ambitious projects often hit boundary issues, which is why we’ve spent time thinking through the implications of our approach to bounding the system in USAID: RESILIM O,” says Stephen Holness, research associate at the Centre for African Conservation Ecology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. He is working on USAID: RESILIM O, doing spatial assessments to look at how we can we better integrate biodiversity, water resource management, climate change and socio-economic issues into spatial planning in a systemic way. He is also looking at protected area expansion and biodiversity stewardship. Internal bounding is important because it delineates the context in which we’re working. “There is an established set of Department of Water Affairs boundary’s that operate at a primary, secondary, quaternary or quinary scale within the Olifants catchment. It makes sense to stick to these as many of the people we’ll be working with are already familiar with them,” says Holness. There is a simple logic using hydrological boundaries for the internal bounding of the system; USAID: RESILIM O has heavy water and related eco-systems services aspects to it. At the same time, these hydrological boundaries make sense from biodiversity point of view. “It also means that the work we do within USAID: RESILIM O will be linked to a functioning hierarchical system, which deals with areas of similar size and geomorphology in ways that make hydrological sense.” That said, “there are still particular challenges in finding units of relevant scale for a social as opposed to a purely ‘scientific’ project,” says Holness. “Our challenge will be to make the information and learning that comes out of USAID: RESILIM O useful to the implementers in a very obvious way.” To help with this, the catchment has been further grouped into working clusters that make pragmatic sense for the work that AWARD will be doing in the Olifants catchment. These clusters are not based on any biophysical or political boundaries but are simply a way of dividing the catchment around potentially similar practices. For example, in Sekhukhune Land we are dealing with a former homeland whilst in the Groblersdal area we are dealing with large commercial agricultural schemes.