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“Alien plants” boost green jobs in South Africa

South Africa has become a success story when it comes to creating jobs and protecting the environment through its Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). Many other countries in the global south are also benefitting from similar programmes.

Feature | 20 November 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – South Africa has been at the forefront of green jobs creation in Africa. One of the main catalysts of this effort has resulted from the proliferation of what experts call “invasive alien plants”.

These alien plants are actually weeds that people have brought into South Africa over a long period of time. The problem now is that they cover some 20 million hectares – which amounts to roughly twice the size of Portugal – and they are having a huge environmental impact.

Dr Christo Marais, Chief-Director of South Africa’s Natural Resources Management Programmes
“They are causing enormous damage to water security and the use of agricultural land,” says Dr Christo Marais, Chief-Director of South Africa’s Natural Resources Management Programmes. “They also deepen the impact of floods and increase soil erosion, together with other natural phenomena such as wild fires.”

But South Africa is not letting nature dictate its course. Not only is the government addressing the environmental consequences of this “alien invasion”, but it is also managing to create jobs and promote social protection in the process.

“Our 'Working for Water' programme has created the equivalent of 14,000 full-time jobs and aims to create another 10,000 by 2017, directly benefiting as many as 30,000 people,” says Marais.

“We are employing labourers and machine operators to get rid of the invasive plants. We also have high-skilled managerial jobs. Each new employee receives proper training, which is an integral part of the programme,” he adds.

The programme specifically targets vulnerable groups, including women, unemployed youth, the rural poor, disabled workers and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The sister programme, “Working on Fire”, which – among other activities – helps to mitigate the consequences of wild fires, provides an additional 5,500 jobs and hopes to reach 7,000 by 2017.

“Our programmes also have a significant impact on social protection, since preserving the environment also means protecting the livelihoods of local communities, helping to prevent natural disasters and securing safe access to water resources,” says Marais.

Both programmes are led by the South African Department of Environment Affairs, in partnership with local communities, public agencies and the private sector – particularly from the forestry sector.

Sharing with Africa and beyond


South Africa is not alone when it comes to environmental challenges. The country has started sharing the lessons learned with its neighbours and other African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

“We also received information requests from India and China,” says Marais, as land degradation is very much a worldwide problem that especially affects Southern and emerging countries.

South-South and triangular cooperation at the ILO

  • The ILO has been involved in supporting South-South and triangular cooperation, (also known as SSTC), for the past three decades.
  • In March 2012, the ILO adopted a development cooperation strategy.
  • At the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference (2011), a specific budget allocation was approved for South-South and triangular cooperation.
  • A partnership programme between Brazil and the ILO for South-South cooperation in the areas of forced labour and green jobs was signed in June 2010.
  • A South-South cooperation agreement between the ILO and China was signed in June 2012.
South Africa is also learning from other southern countries. “We benefited from the experience of Costa Rica, which managed to successfully increase its forest estate by nearly 100% since the 1960’s – up from 25% of the country’s surface area to more than 50%,” explains Marais.

“The South Africa natural resources management programmes are good examples of projects initiated in a Southern country that can be shared with other countries facing similar challenges. This is achieved through South-South and triangular cooperation (*),” says the ILO’s Senior UN Affairs and South-South specialist, Anita Amorin.

“It is also one of the three projects focusing on energy, climate and decent work that the ILO is showcasing during the ILO solution forum at the Global South-South Development Expo 2012, which is taking place in Vienna,” she concludes.

(*) Triangular cooperation is where northern countries give support to South-South cooperation.

Tags: decent work, green jobs, employment creation, social protection, environmental protection

Regions and countries covered: South Africa

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

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