NCC Environmental Services (Pty) Ltd

People working for the Environment: Combining conservation with job creation - case study

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Courtesy of NCC Environmental Services (Pty) Ltd

On behalf of the Table Mountain Fund, NCC has used conservation projects on private land to develop local contractors and create long-term jobs.

On behalf of the Table Mountain Fund, NCC used alien clearning projects on private land to develop contractors who would be able to take on future work independently.

The Table Mountain Fund (TMF), established and administered by WWF South Africa, initiates, develops and funds projects to restore and protect the natural wilderness of Table Mountain, the Cape Peninsula and the Cape Floral Kingdom. Its aims include raising environmental awareness and building local capacity for conservation action.

People Working for the Environment, funded by the Pioneer Foods Fund, was designed both to create jobs and to provide conservation benefits.

One of the challenges of using conservation projects to build small businesses has historically been a lack of capacity:  There has been a gap between established larger businesses and small subsistence contractors who are dependent on seasonal work and do not have the resources to take on larger projects independently. The goal of this project was to contribute to filling that gap.

The TMF approached NCC to implement and manage the project, in three geographical areas in the Boland on private land that has been signed into the CapeNature Stewardship Programme. Only a small proportion of critically endangered fynbos is found on government-owned land, and the Stewardship Programme encourages and rewards private landowners for conserving particularly valuable pieces of land. These may be areas that are difficult to access and can’t be used for agriculture, or farms bought specifically for the purposes of conservation.

People Working for the Environment operated on 16 sites covered by three CapeNature business units and one unit covered by the City of Cape Town Biodiversity Unit:

  1. Boland North (Paarl to Malmesbury and the Voëlvlei Nature Reserve)
  2. Upper Breede River (Rawsonville to Tulbagh)
  3. Boland South (Theewatersklooof and Elgin).
  4. West Coast (under COCT)

NCC selected one team from each of the first 3 areas and provided training, supervision, mentoring and quality control for each team for the duration of the project. Training topics included:

  • Environmental induction
  • Chainsaw operation
  • Firefighting
  • Herbicide application
  • Health and safety
  • Business development and management
  • Life skills

NCC also sourced and bought equipment such as chainsaws, loppers, bow saws and brush cutters for the teams to secure bulk discounts.

After initial training the teams, some of which were new to this work, were assigned to work including footpath building, erosion control, berm and fence building, alien clearing and firebreak maintenance.

A key feature of the project was that teams were paid regular wages every two weeks in contrast to the usual practice which is to pay 30-90 days after invoice at the end of the project. This creates enormous cash flow difficulties for smaller contractors and effectively puts them out of the running for such work – or traps workers in an unstable feast-and-famine cycle.

The ability to receive regular wages for regular work that was guaranteed for at least a year had a profound effect on the team members, only three of whom had ever held permanent jobs before. Their fitness and work discipline improved, their status in their families and communities increased, food was always available and they were able to plan for the future, including paying school fees for their children.

NCC also insisted that teams remain constant, which also had important benefits as staff members learned, many of them for the first time, the skills and disciplines of working in a team.

After the first year of the project one team exited to work independently, with the other two remaining on the project which continued with limited funding. Both the contractors still on the project now have second, independent teams up and working.

NCC has appointed all three contractors as its preferred suppliers for any future work to be done in their areas, and will continue to provide mentorship and business development.  We have helped the contractors to print business cards and company profiles, registered them on the relevant government databases so they can tender for future work, and have let local organisations and landowners know they are available for future work.

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