Wine estates committed to value of biodiversity

Nearly 90% of the Western Cape’s wine is produced in the threatened Cape Floral Kingdom, which hosts more plant species than are found in the entire northern hemisphere. In just 2,5 years, 82 farmers and five cooperatives have conserved over 50 000ha of land that could have been used for agricultural production, while ways are being investigated to reward these efforts with market premiums and increased shelf space. Glenneis Erasmus reports.
Issue date 24 August 2007

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For nearly 10 years South African wine farmers have worked to make their production practices sustainable and environmentally sound from vineyard to cellar. In 1998 local producers became international pioneers when they initiated the scheme for Integrated Production of Wine (IPW), a programme developed by the Agricultural Research Council’s Infruitec-Nietvoorbij aimed at promoting environmentally friendly practices. Other new-world wine countries such as Australia and North America soon followed suit.

Then in 2004 South African producers surpassed their initial commitment when the industry launched the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI) in partnership with the Botanical Society of Africa, Conservation International and the World Wide Fund for Nature. Inge Kotzé, project coordinator for BWI, explains that in addition to supporting the IPW scheme, members of the BWI also commit to conserve parts of their land. Rescuing disappearing fynbos he initiative was launched due to increased concern over the deterioration of the Cape Floral Kingdom – the smallest yet richest plant kingdom on earth, containing more plant species than are found in the entire northern hemisphere. Inge points out that the Cape Floral Kingdom is severely threatened by increased agricultural and urban development, alien invasive plant species and global warming, resulting in less than 8% of the unique renosterveld and lowland fynbos ecosystems remaining. Because over 80% of the remaining area is privately owned, the Botanical of South Africa and Conservation International realised that the most effective conservation agencies would be the agricultural industries on this private land. he wine industry was targeted first, as almost 90% of wine production occurs within the Cape Floral Kingdom.

There is also a growing concern that because of increased market pressure, producers may use some of the region’s most vulnerable natural habitat for vineyard expansion. he wine industry supported the initiative by incorporating the revised comprehensive biodiversity guidelines developed by BWI into the IPW scheme. The overall weighting of the biodiversity section increased from 3% of the overall farm evaluation score within the scheme when the BWI was introduced, to 12,5% in 2006. Large areas already under conservation he conservation sector is delighted with the willingness of farmers to become involved in the BWI programme, says Inge. Today, 2,5 years after the programme was officially launched, 82 producers and five cooperatives have conserved over 50 000ha of land, or 50% of the total vineyard footprint in the Cape winelands. This means that 1ha of land is under conservation for every 2ha of vineyard. Inge hopes that South Africa will be able to add another 50 000ha, so there will be 1ha of conservation land for each hectare under vineyard.

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However, she points out that the amount of land conserved does not necessarily reflect the value of a farmer’s commitment. “Farm size, whether the conserved area is also suitable for production, and the extent to which biodiversity is threatened on the farm, all influence the value of a contribution,” she explains. There are currently two levels of commitment to the BWI. Farmers who commit to conserve a minimum of 2ha of land and to follow the minimum specified requirements for IPW obtain Member status, while farmers who make outstanding progress in conserving or restoring the Cape Floral Kingdom on their property and conserve at least 10% of their land receive Championship status. Farmers with IPW conformity of higher than 75% and exceptional conservation efforts can also qualify for this category. Practising sound environmental management, restoring natural areas and clearing alien plants can be extremely time-consuming and sometimes expensive. Strategies are therefore needed to motivate participants and render conservation financially sustainable.

One way of rewarding farmers for their efforts would be through market premiums. The wine industry is currently exploring this approach. The idea is to use a special sticker on wines conforming to the BWI and/or IPW standards so the consumer can identify these producers. Research so far has indicated that British consumers – who currently represent one of South Africa’s main export destinations – are receptive to this form of marketing. Wines of South Africa has also incorporated biodiversity into its positioning for Brand South Africa, giving South Africa a unique selling point in the global wine market. However, it is still uncertain how farmers will be compensated for their conservation efforts. Apart from premiums, returns could also be in the form of increased shelf space or market access. Inge adds that SA has a huge competitive advantage over most other wine-producing countries, especially those in the old world, as very few wine farmers in those countries have sufficient land to follow South African wine producers’ remarkable example. Other valuable spin-offs Conservation also provides other market opportunities for farmers.

The Roos brothers, owners of Mooiplaas farm, (see box: Wine estates make conservation pay) are integrating their conservation attempts with tourism by offering hiking routes followed by wine-tastings on the farms. “Wine tourism will help to increase farm revenue and provide new employment opportunities, and will also allow wine-lovers to experience our unique production environment and its impact on our wines – and the fauna and flora,” Tielman Roos says. However, further initiatives are needed to justify conservation and make it sustainable in the long term. “A hiking trail, for example, definitely does not compensate farmers for losses suffered from not developing this land or the costs incurred in rehabilitating the land,” Tielman says. He adds that one cannot cross-finance one farming enterprise with another. Conserving fynbos, renosterbos and succulent karoo land must be financially justifiable practices in their own right, and not because they form part of a wine-marketing scheme.

Subdividing conserved land and selling or renting out housing on the subdivisions is one way to make conservation efforts more financially sustainable. Tielman also feels that government should become more involved in farmers’ conservation efforts. He points out that farmers clear out and conserve areas at great cost, but that they still have to pay land taxes on these areas. “These areas are a national heritage, not a personal asset. This means government has a responsibility to accommodate farmers in their conservation efforts,” he says. For more information visit or |fw