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South African Journal of Science

On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
Print version ISSN 0038-2353

S. Afr. j. sci. vol.112 n.5-6 Pretoria May./Jun. 2016 



A broader view of stewardship to achieve conservation and sustainability goals in South Africa



Jaco BarendseI, II, III; Dirk RouxI, II; Bianca CurrieI, IV; Natasha WilsonV; Christo FabriciusI

ISustainability Research Unit, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, George, South Africa
IISouth African National Parks - Scientific Services, George, South Africa
IIIMarine Stewardship Council -Science and Standards Team, London, United Kingdom
IVSchool of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, George, South Africa
VWorld Wide Fund for Nature -Land Programme, Cape Town, South Africa





Stewardship is a popular term for the principles and actions aimed at improving sustainability and resilience of social-ecological systems at various scales and in different contexts. Participation in stewardship is voluntary, and is based on values of altruism and long-term benefits. At a global scale, 'earth stewardship' is viewed as a successor to earlier natural resource management systems. However, in South Africa, stewardship is narrowly applied to biodiversity conservation agreements on private land. Using a broader definition of stewardship, we identify all potentially related schemes that may contribute to sustainability and conservation outcomes. Stewardship schemes and actors are represented as a social network and placed in a simple typology based on objectives, mechanisms of action and operational scales. The predominant type was biodiversity stewardship programmes. The main actors were environmental non-governmental organisations participating in prominent bioregional landscape partnerships, together acting as important 'bridging organisations' within local stewardship networks. This bridging enables a high degree of collaboration between non-governmental and governmental bodies, especially provincial conservation agencies via mutual projects and conservation objectives. An unintended consequence may be that management accountability is relinquished or neglected by government because of inadequate implementation capacity. Other stewardship types, such as market-based and landscape initiatives, complemented primarily biodiversity ones, as part of national spatial conservation priorities. Not all schemes related to biodiversity, especially those involving common pool resources, markets and supply chains. Despite an apparent narrow biodiversity focus, there is evidence of diversification of scope to include more civic and community-level stewardship activities, in line with the earth stewardship metaphor.

Keywords: earth stewardship; ecosystem services; natural resource management; biodiversity; eco-labels




Over the past decade, 'stewardship' has become one of the dominant terms used to describe goals, principles and actions that aim to achieve sustainability in natural resource management, contribute to conservation priorities, and curb environmental degradation that threatens societal well-being.1-3 Stewardship is not a new term4, nor is it unique to a conservation perspective, e.g. in corporate management5. Even within an environmental context, its definition and interpretation varies greatly in its scale and application. At planetary scale, the terms 'ecosystem' and 'earth' stewardship are sometimes used interchangeably (e.g. by Chapin et al.2,6) to describe an overarching framework for dealing with social-ecological vulnerability and promoting general actions and systems that would enhance resilience in the light of global environmental change.6-8

On the other side of the spectrum, the stewardship tag is also applied in a much more focused manner, e.g. to describe market-linked incentives such as certification schemes for specific commodities such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for fisheries9 and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for timber10. In some countries, stewardship is mostly associated with sustainability in agri-environmental systems (e.g. in the United Kingdom11) or with the adoption of better land and catchment management (e.g. 'Landcare' in Australia12), while elsewhere it may designate the management of formally protected or wilderness areas13. In South Africa today, 'stewardship' in a literal sense is understood to refer mainly to protecting biodiversity on privately owned land, under the banner of so-called Biodiversity Stewardship Programmes (BSPs).14,15 Although such initiatives were identified over a decade earlier as a strategy to incentivise 'off-reserve' conservation16, and well before adopting the term stewardship, it is now rarely used in any other context.

The broadscale, global interpretation of stewardship is based primarily on a developed country perspective, in which it is viewed by some as a possible 'successor' to earlier resource management regimes (namely steady-state and ecosystem management approaches - see Chapin et al.2). This view is embodied by a set of nine 'stewardship goals'8 widely accepted as the guidelines for promoting earth stewardship17. These goals, grounded in the theory of social-ecological sustainability, include predominantly social aspects, e.g. equitable access to basic needs and opportunities, and sustaining ecosystem services.3 The goals also include a number of other cross-cutting characteristics: (1) voluntary (as opposed to mandatory) participation18; (2) altruistic and moral-ethical connotations, sometimes associated with religion19,20 that engender a sense of care21 and shared responsibility, with consideration for the interests of human society, other species, and the natural world22; (3) an emphasis on inter-generational rather than short-term benefits8; (4) applicability across different spatial scales, i.e. from 'backyard to planet'23; and (5) the need for multiple partnerships, collaborations and linkages. Social networks and the stakeholder relationships that they represent are increasingly recognised as important features of natural resource management and conservation approaches.24,25 Stewardship actions are often visualised as networks of actors with linkages within specific contexts, e.g. in urban ecosystems26, at multiple scales27, or across institutional and other divides28.

Achieving these stewardship goals will require the implementation of practical mechanisms that could be viewed as the 'building blocks' of earth stewardship, preferably with metrics to indicate progress.8 Such mechanisms could encompass decisions and actions at multiple scales (local, regional and global) based on the familiar principles of 'reduce, reuse and recycle'29. Other practical contributions may be the practice of 'civic' or 'urban' ecology: something as simple as planting a tree in the neighbourhood28 or as complex as incorporating ecological principles into urban designs30. In practice, it is sometimes difficult to judge how stewardship differs from other environmental governance or natural resource management systems, or similar concepts like custodianship or trusteeship.31 For example, co-management32, like stewardship, is not necessarily driven purely by conservation objectives33 but also by the need for benefit sharing34. In developing countries, stewardship principles are inherent to many community-based management systems35 based on traditional and indigenous cultural values and beliefs (but for an opposing view see Fennell36).

One of the most compelling notions to emerge from proponents of the Earth Stewardship Initiative of the Ecological Society of America is the opportunity for less developed countries to 'leap frog' steps (e.g. steady-state resource management) on a typical Western resource management continuum directly to stewardship (see Figure 1 in Chapin et al.2), presumably avoiding the unsustainable practices of the past. How does this perspective relate to advancements in a developing or middle-income country context in which socio-economic disparities (e.g. developmental and income gaps) are far more pronounced and capacity to implement stewardship may be reduced? To assess this question we: (1) identified stewardship or stewardship-like mechanisms and their proponents or implementers in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine social-ecological systems in South Africa; (2) examined the relative influence and relationships between identified organisations or actors as a network; and (3) present the stewardship schemes as a simple typology, based on their objectives and operational scales. We discuss our findings relative to South African conservation and sustainability priorities, and in the wider context of Earth Stewardship Goals.8 Our results not only provide a broader overview than the more traditional interpretation of stewardship in South Africa, but also allow us to reflect on whether stewardship has indeed emerged as a possible holistic or 'fast-track' option toward achieving conservation and sustainability goals.



Scoping and information retrieval

We anticipated considerable variation in the literal use of the term 'stewardship' and whether or how it is applied to initiatives that may be considered as stewardship activities. Therefore, during our review process, we did not take a purely systematic approach and adopted the following broad definition of stewardship:

Any initiative, activity or voluntary involvement by an individual or organisation in the private, non-governmental or governmental sectors (including parastatal agencies), which seeks to contribute to, or promote, natural resource conservation or sustainability goals in social-ecological systems, both terrestrial and aquatic.

Further selection criteria were: (1) voluntary participation, i.e. not legislated (although a legal framework might apply); (2) non-commercial motivation, while acknowledging some operational costs (e.g. auditing costs for an eco-label); and (3) a natural resource or ecosystem management focus (as opposed to industrial processes).

We identified stewardship-related activities or initiatives ('schemes') and the most prominent organisations, individuals and other stakeholders involved in promoting and implementing these - collectively referred to as 'actors'. Importantly, compliance with our definition rather than explicit association with the term 'stewardship' was the main criterion for inclusion into our database, which was populated using both systematic and non-systematic search methods over a period of about 16 months (October 2012 - January 2014). We only considered schemes active within, but not necessarily restricted to, the Republic of South Africa. Actors could be based anywhere.

We did initial scoping through keyword searches on the Internet and in primary scientific indexing services using the terms 'stewardship' and 'Africa'. Next, we expanded our list of actors, schemes and associated terminology by a process of chain-referral (cf. snowball sampling37). We contacted or met with the most prominent actors, and asked about their own involvement in stewardship and for referrals to others, allowing us to identify more cryptic actors or schemes. Some referrals included suggestions to attend specific local and international meetings, including the Fynbos Forum (Cape St Francis, South Africa, July 2012), and the Symposium on Science & Stewardship to Protect & Sustain Wilderness Values at the 10th World Wilderness Congress (Salamanca, Spain, October 2013). Finally we conducted a more exhaustive round of searches based on two models of information retrieval: the 'berrypicking' model of Bates38, and the 'Web moves' behavioural model of Choo39. The first is an 'evolving' search approach in which the cognitive response to results by the researcher may lead to on-the-fly modifications to the search process, e.g. by adding additional terms such as 'custodianship' or 'conservancies', or doing searches on a specific organisation, to broaden the sample. The latter model describes a progression of 'moves' whereby the researcher, starting on one website, follows links to other sites with relevant content ('chaining'), scans browsing results for most prominent returns, and differentiates between various results while bookmarking or capturing useful information. It includes an element of 'monitoring' whereby the sites are checked for updates and changes, and 'extraction' whereby a site is systematically searched for pertinent information (including type of scheme and its objectives, scale and mechanism of action).40 These approaches enabled us to satisfy the objective of capturing the most readily available information on representative examples of stewardship within the region, including websites and primary scientific, academic and grey literature. As a minimum, for an initiative to be included, it had to comply with our definition and criteria, and we recorded additional information needed to identify the type of actor and scheme (detailed below).

Social network visualisation

We classified actors into five broad categories: (1) non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including registered charities or not-for-profit organisations; (2) funds - organisations that provide financing for schemes but do not normally undertake implementation; (3) governmental entities, including national and provincial ministries, departments or agencies; (4) private entities, including profit-driven companies and industry associations; and (5) partnerships - other groupings that do not fit the statutory entities described by (1)-(4), including collaborative networks, associations or programmes. All these actors represented the 'nodes' in our network. We then identified direct linkages ('edges') between pairs of nodes from stated collaborations on web pages and other documents, or implied through co-branding or logos on stewardship schemes, with each link assigned an arbitrary weight of one (i.e. multiple collaborations between the same actors would result in a weight greater than one). It is important to note that deriving linkages in this way did not allow us to assign directionality. We visualised relationships between actors as a social network using the software Gephi 0.8.2 beta41. We used the betweenness centrality - the number of times a node rests between two others which themselves are not linked - as a measure of relative prominence in stewardship (calculated with the algorithm of Brandes42). Actors with high betweenness centrality are considered important for long-term resource management planning, bringing together disconnected segments of a network.43


We identified broad types of stewardship schemes compliant with our definition, and based on information available about their objectives (e.g. focus on biodiversity or ecosystem services), mechanism of action (e.g. conservation on private land or market-based incentives), operational scale or footprint (global, national, sub-national or local). Despite some overlap between schemes and a lack of quantitative measures, we could, during a workshop, agree on several major types, some of which had sub-types; we summarised these types and identified representative examples. Without consistent information available for each scheme, the types were subjectively placed on a conceptual plane based on our perceptions about: (1) the scale of their operational footprint (local to global); (2) their scope (extent of benefit or participation) ranging from individual to society; and (3) their 'tangibility' ranging from schemes that could be achieved through practical implementation to those needing more philosophical or ethical mind-shifts. Where available, we recorded any measurable indicators or documented achievements or challenges associated with specific types of schemes.



Stewardship network and typology

Our final database included 38 NGOs, 14 governmental entities, 10 private entities, 5 funds and 27 partnerships (between any of the recorded actors). These 94 nodes and 180 edges between them formed the basis

for the social network visualisation (Figure 1; see also Appendix 1 and the supplementary material). Among these there were seven global NGOs, and three global funds; most other NGOs were national (n=18) or sub-national (n=10), noting that international NGOs with South African branches were considered 'national', e.g. the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) and Conservation South Africa. Partnerships were mostly national (n=7) or sub-national (n=16) with three examples of global and one local partnership. The network appears well-connected with many linkages but relatively few prominent actors, and some disconnected nodes. Most prominent with the highest betweenness centrality values were NGOs and partnerships that relate to biodiversity and landscape conservation initiatives, notably the Cape Action Plan for People and the Environment (CAPE) - a systematic conservation plan for the Cape Floristic Region, initiated in 1998 with funding from the Global Environmental Facility's Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and coordinated by WWF-SA44. National (e.g. South African National Biodiversity Institute) and sub-national governmental agencies (e.g. CapeNature) also feature as important bridging nodes.

We distinguished six main types of stewardship schemes (defined in Table 1), some with sub-types or some degree of overlap. In terms of scale, 5 schemes were operational at a global scale, 2 at the African continent level, 13 at national, 38 at sub-national (i.e. coverage limited to one or more of South Africa's nine provinces), and 19 at local level (i.e. limited to smaller areas such as a city or catchment). Based on the above we positioned the main stewardship types or sub-types on a conceptual plane (Figure 2) and describe and present examples of each type in more detail below (also see Table 1).


Conservancies represent the oldest form of voluntary conservation on private land in South Africa - the first conservancy was established by a group of farmers in 1978 in the Balgowan District of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), through encouragement by the former Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife). Although conservancies are required to be registered with the regional conservation authority, there is no binding agreement between these parties. Conservancies are viewed as the entry-level to more formal stewardship agreements, but are not generally recognised as components of BSPs (see below). Participation is often based on shared aims and a sense of identity (e.g. expressed through logos displayed in media forums and individual farm signage), which may enable members to access funds to implement conservation action, if they so choose. Each conservancy is made up of individual landowners, while individual conservancies are organised into provincial associations. Since 2003, provincial associations have unified under the National Association of Conservancies (and Stewardship) South Africa (NACSSA).45,46 Conservancies are found in all nine South African provinces, with the number of those registered indicated: KZN (126), Free State (152), Western Cape (70), Northern Cape (8), Eastern Cape (34), Gauteng (50), Mpumalanga (39) and Limpopo (17) (Wesson J 2013, written communication, September 4). These conservancies include rural, urban, township and industrial sites (e.g. landfills) covering a total estimated 3 000 000 ha.45,47 However, not all are registered and specific information such as conservancy names, GPS coordinates and areal extent are not readily available (Young A 2013, written communication, September 3).

Biodiversity stewardship

The conservation of biodiversity using so-called 'stewardship agreements' was conceived at national level by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) but is implemented sub-nationally by provincial conservation agencies and NGOs. Biodiversity stewardship is most prominent in the Western Cape where it was piloted as the 'Conservation Stewardship Programme' in late 2002 by CapeNature and the Botanical Society48 as part of the CAPE strategy49-51. The approach was later adopted in other provinces such as KZN.52 The underlying objective of these BSPs is to improve protection of critical biodiversity and threatened ecosystems occurring on private and communal land as determined by national conservation plans and spatial assessments.53,54 This protection is to be achieved by encouraging formal conservation agreements between the conservation agency and landowners through financial (e.g. tax relief55,56) and in-kind (extension services - habitat and land management advisory) incentives. The programme recognises various levels of participation, namely biodiversity agreements, protected environments and contract nature reserves (as defined in the Protected Areas Act57) that differ in degree of legal protection status, land-use restriction (on title deeds) and minimum duration of management tenure: 10 years for biodiversity agreements, 30 years for protected environments and 99 years for contract nature reserves48,51. By 2010 in the Western Cape there were 33 contract nature reserves (45 261 ha), 17 biodiversity agreements (11 336 ha) and 21 voluntary sites (20 446 ha).58 By 2013 in KZN there were 9 contract nature reserves (35 953 ha), 1 protected environment (238 ha) and 3 biodiversity agreements (4274 ha), with a further 34 630 ha in the final stage of proclamation in the first two categories, and nearly 175 000 ha under negotiation (Martindale G 2013, written communication, August 29). In other provinces (e.g. Gauteng and Eastern Cape), BSPs are more recent (post-2009) and outcomes are not readily available. As the programme has developed, more local authorities and NGOs have expressed interest in adopting this model.

Land- and seascape initiatives

These schemes share a broad focus at land- (or sea-) scape level, usually determined by unique or exceptional biodiversity, geographical features or other characteristics, sometimes in combination. They aim to improve the protection of an area by raising awareness about the unique features or conservation profiles through special listings or other means of recognition. They vary in spatial scale from sub-national to regional, although some are international initiatives e.g. the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme59 and World Heritage Sites60. Landscape initiatives often correspond closely with national (e.g. CAPE) or international (e.g. IUCN 'Key Biodiversity Areas') bioregional programmes.


One of the most diverse sub-types of landscape initiatives involve the concept of corridors. These include corridors that link formally protected areas primarily for conservation of biodiversity and processes (e.g. Gouritz River Initiative61 and Eden to Addo62) to those that would enhance wildlife movement (e.g. for African elephants (Loxodonta africana) - the Lubombo Spine Corridor). Increasingly, corridors have evolved beyond biodiversity conservation tools to also include building resilience and adapting to climate change or provision of ecosystem services (e.g. freshwater stewardship or river catchment corridors). For example, the Climate Action Partnership between Conservation South Africa and other NGOs has identified 45 such corridors in KZN and 14 in the Eastern Cape (in collaboration with the Wildlands Conservation Trust). Finally, the corridor concept is also used in the context of eco-tourism routes to promote human-nature experiences (e.g. Segarona Heritage Park Hike between Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves63), to raise awareness about ecosystems and their conservation (e.g. Rim of Africa - a >600 km hiking trail in Western Cape mountains64,65) or even to conceptually link miscellaneous important 'heritage sites' at a continent scale, so furthering the notion of earth stewardship (see 'Africa Alive Corridors' concept66).

Sites with special features

The sites of many of the corridors (see above) are closely tied to existing biodiversity stewardship sites, protected areas and other landscape-level initiatives such as mega-reserves (e.g. Baviaanskloof). These sites also include MAB reserves of which there are eight, which together cover over 7 million ha: Kogelberg, 103 629 ha; Cape West Coast, 378 240 ha; Kruger to Canyons, 2 474 700 ha; Waterberg, 414 571 ha; Cape Winelands, 322 030 ha; Vhembe, 30 701 ha; Gouritz Cluster, 3 187 892 ha; and Magaliesberg, 357 870 ha in South Africa59, the oldest being Kogelberg (designated in 1998), and the most recent the Gouritz Cluster and Magaliesberg MAB65, both proclaimed in 2015. South Africa has eight listed World Heritage Sites under the World Heritage Convention of which four are for cultural features, three for natural features (Cape Floral Region, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Vredefort Dome), and one mixed natural-cultural (Maloti-Drakensberg)60. Notably absent is marine and coastal coverage. However, the concept of International Hope Spots - part of Sylvia Earl's Mission Blue67 - is being championed by the local NGO, Sustainable Seas Trust68, with five proposed sites (Algoa Bay, Aliwal Shoal, Cape Whale Coast, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay).

Market-based schemes

These schemes focused on environmental sustainability objectives (we did not consider primarily social ones such as Fair Trade) at the resource production or ecosystem level of a value chain, by trying to influence consumers to reward more sustainable supplies of a product (e.g. seafood) or service (e.g. tourism) through their choices.69 There were two sub-types: eco-labels and business and biodiversity initiatives.


Eco-labels rely on a certification standard for a specified commodity or service; its adoption entitles the producer/service provider to use the eco-label mark as a marketing tool. These included leading international third party eco-labels: one MSC certified fishery (South African demersal 'Cape' hake (Merluccius spp.) trawl fishery of ca 120 000 t per year, first certified in 2004); 20 forestry management areas certified by the FSC covering >1.48 million ha; and the Blue Flag tourism eco-label for 36 beaches, 4 marinas, and 3 whale-watching boats implemented by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA)70. There were several national eco-labels addressing specific issues, e.g. badger-friendly honey, predator-friendly meat71, sustainable golf courses (e.g. one in Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program) or tourism accommodation (e.g. Green Leaf). At a continental level, the African Eco-Labelling Mechanism72 has developed draft standards for the agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors. It is important to note that national or regional eco-labels do not always make use of third-party verification or traceability mechanisms for certified products.

Business and biodiversity initiatives

Business and biodiversity initiatives (BBIs) focus on production systems for specific products by making a 'business case' for biodiversity conservation and sustainable harvesting during production of specific products. It advocates voluntary adoption of better on-farm conservation practices and the setting aside of land for conservation (through BSPs), while the participant can use membership (including on-product information) as a potential marketing advantage. The first BBi was the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative, established in 2004 in the Western Cape winelands through a multi-stakeholder partnership.73,74 The model is expanding to include other production sectors within the Cape Floristic Region and other bioregions, for example, rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) (note also three producers certified by the Rainforest Alliance75); 'Biodiversity &...Citrus, Red Meat, Rooibos, Ostrich, and Potato Initiatives; Grasslands Programme Red Meat; and Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) friendly pecan nuts76. In 2010, 280 BBI members had a total footprint of 250 153 ha of natural habitat, mainly in the Western Cape.77

Ecosystem services

These schemes focus on restoration of specific ecosystem services. They include primarily government-driven initiatives, but with more or less voluntary adoption (or in lieu of financial payments for ecosystem services78) by private landowners, such as the state-funded Expanded Public Works Programme of which the best known is Working for Water (WfW)79. Established in 1995 to provide low-skill employment opportunities for poor communities while restoring water run-off by clearing alien invasive plants from catchments80, WfW treated over 1.3 million condensed hectares81 between 2002 and 2008, mainly on public land (e.g. in National Parks). The model has been expanded to include Working for Wetlands (e.g. restoration through constructing gabions), Working for the Coast (e.g. coastal clean-ups and resource user monitoring) and Working on Fire (e.g. combating wild fires, or reducing fuel loads through invasive plant removal) programmes.82

Other schemes more specific to agricultural production include state initiatives such as the National LandCare Programme83 which addresses, inter alia, soil management and erosion control on farms. Others are driven by NGO and private/corporate partnerships, like the Sustainable Sugarcane Farm Management System (known as SUSFARMS).84 Some water stewardship initiatives focus strongly on the link between the supply chain and catchment management, e.g. WWF Water Futures Partnership with SABMiller on hops production85, or the standards set by the Alliance for Water Stewardship that have now been adopted by South African producers of export stone fruits86,87.

Education and awareness

These schemes either focus on a specific cause, e.g. sustainable seafood, or incorporate information about multiple causes into a 'basket' of sustainable options aimed at the general public. They also promote more sustainable living among specific sectors, e.g. scholars, through actions such as saving water and energy or recycling. For example, the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) which encourages seafood consumers to consult a 'traffic-light' species list of sustainable seafood choices when buying fish88,89; through this market pressure its influence may extend into regulatory or policy areas90. Eco-Schools91 is a sustainable schools programme from the international NGO Foundation for Environmental Education, but implemented in South Africa by WESSA with 1200 registered schools. Often, because education and awareness are ancillary functions to the main objectives of NGOs, such schemes were difficult to isolate, and tend to have a cross-cutting function (represented by the arrow in Figure 2) by linking multiple schemes, e.g. GreenChoice which markets a 'basket' of sustainable options from different schemes (including eco-labels and BBIs) to the general public92.



Our broad overview of stewardship schemes in South Africa is, to our knowledge, the first such at a countrywide scale. Our findings represent a much wider perspective on stewardship than has ever been used in any developing country. We present our findings under broad themes that aim to capture the key features of stewardship in South Africa, while maintaining a global context.

Biodiversity focus and the role of NGOs and partnerships

The strong focus on biodiversity conservation on private land over the past decade is perhaps not surprising, given that much of South Africa's globally recognised biodiversity and threatened environments, especially in the Cape Floristic Region, is located outside of formally protected areas.54 This focus not only explains the prominence of CAPE (Figure 1), but also why many aspects of BSPs, especially within the CAPE planning domain, have been examined more in-depth: policy and governance frameworks93,94; perceptions and motivations for participation95, e.g. tax incentives55,56; the relationship between biodiversity stewardship and social learning96; and evaluating the contribution of BSPs to national conservation goals49. The CAPE partnership, together with major 'global' NGOs (e.g. WWF-SA), form dominant elements of the stewardship network, in effect combining as a 'bridging organisation'97. Such organisations, on the one hand, leverage external resources or 'bridging ties' like international funding (e.g. from the CEPF), while on the other hand, connect and enable diverse local actors to utilise new 'possibilities for action'98. Although our data set did not allow an in-depth analysis or understanding of the stewardship network, it suggests that more social network analysis could be valuable in gaining a better understanding of stewardship at specific spatial scales, within specific groups of actors, and the links between international and local conservation priorities and actions.99 The relative prominence of NGOs with national (e.g. Wildlands Conservation Trust) or sub-national footprints (e.g. Nature's Valley Trust) that act as implementing agencies, or that collaborate with state entities such as provincial conservation agencies on more diverse stewardship approaches, suggests examples of cross-scale and scale-bridging interactions27.

Following CAPE's success, similar partnerships were started in other bioregions, notably the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Plan (SKEP)100 and the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Plan (STEP)101. After being piloted in the Western Cape and KZN Provinces, the BSP model has been expanded to other provinces, correlating with other globally recognised biodiversity priority areas, e.g. the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany centre of endemism in the Eastern Cape, and grasslands in Mpumalanga.102 Furthermore, the BSP sites have determined target areas for implementing market-based and landscape stewardship mechanisms like biosphere reserves (e.g. Kogelberg and West Coast), corridors (e.g. Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor) and BBIs in the Cape Floristic Region (e.g. wine and flowers).

Non-biodiversity goals: Common pool, markets and ecosystem services

In contrast to the above, some stewardship schemes are not necessarily tied to biodiversity and bioregional focus. For example, the establishment of conservancies pre-dates spatial prioritisations. Conservancies are found in all provinces and motivations for their establishment are more diverse, sometimes tending toward self-interest (see below). Another exception to a singular biodiversity focus is stewardship schemes dealing with common pool resources, value chains and markets, or ecosystem services. Marine and coastal ecosystems present classical examples of common pool natural resources103 held in 'public trust' by the state on behalf of its citizens104. Stewardship activities by citizens or interest groups in the marine environment thus present something of a conundrum: they are trying to be co-stewards of something already under government custodianship on their behalf (but see the concept of marine citizenship105). In the South African context, stewardship schemes in the marine environment are predominantly market-based or educational (e.g. MSC, Blue Flag and SASSI) with seascape-level schemes such as International Ocean Hope Spots only a recent development - not unexpected when bioregional planning and prioritisation has lagged in the marine environment. Surprisingly, co-management, which is generally considered conducive to sustainable harvesting and resource stewardship106,107, has struggled to emerge within South Africa's current fisheries management regime108. Increasingly, the term 'stewardship' is adopted to describe collaborative governance approaches to manage global commons such as the deep ocean.109 This trend may reflect growing recognition that, up to now, states have failed to adequately manage oceans as a global commons by not viewing ocean ecosystems at a planetary scale. This failure may be a result of single species or regional foci, or by ignoring ethics and the interconnectedness of ecosystems and stakeholders.110

Stewardship based on value chains, markets or commodities can sometimes be at odds with biodiversity conservation; for example, the FSC, which in South Africa primarily certifies monoculture plantations of exotic (often invasive) tree species like pines and gums, located in biodiverse fynbos and grassland habitats. Ironically, the only exception to this contradiction is the FSC certificate held by South African National Parks for harvesting indigenous hardwoods in the Garden Route National Park. The fact that 'plantations are not forests' is strongly advocated by some lobby groups.111 Similarly, many conservationists dispute that any bottom trawl fishery should be certified as sustainable.112 Focus on specific ecosystem services or concepts like biodiversity offsets (or other mitigation measures) within the stewardship discourse is likely to remain uncomfortable, if not controversial, when there is evidence that non-biodiversity objectives are not always compatible with biodiversity ones.113

Motivations and mechanisms

Published sources suggest that intrinsic motivations to participate in stewardship include altruism and acting in societal interest.114 Although environmental consciousness (cf. biophilia115) is an assumed prerequisite for private landowners to create conservancies in South Africa, a range of reasons are reported, ranging from nature conservation (primary) and security for domestic and wild animals to securing recreational or tourism opportunities including hunting, or sometimes to oppose development.116 Some of these reasons may be equally applicable when entering into more formal BSP arrangements, but often it is up to the proponent (e.g. provincial conservation agency and NGOs) to 'sell' the concept to the potential steward. Incentives may include financial ones55, but also 'extension services': specialist input and management assistance relating to land and biodiversity. The type of landowner (commercial versus lifestyle farmer), land size and opportunity costs can all impact on willingness to participate in conservation.117 Recent work using the Biodiversity & Wine Initiative as example, suggests that both intrinsic and extrinsic factors are important for farmers to join this BBI, notably their own value systems.118 The importance of issue 'champions' as a key driver for participation was also emphasised.

International eco-labels are seen to inadvertently encourage global stewardship by empowering mainly northern hemisphere consumers to take personal responsibility for the production of a commodity elsewhere, especially in the developing world.119 Initially, adoption of both the FSC and MSC in South Africa was motivated by the demands of the export market, rather than local consumer choice.120,121 Some argue that payment for ecosystem services is inherently easier to leverage from a business perspective than payment for biodiversity122, hence diversification of stewardship mechanisms to include ecosystem services78 or value chains. Market-based interventions, together with consumer awareness schemes (e.g. GreenChoice), contribute to making a 'business case' for biodiversity conservation.76 The notion of a business case often finds resonance and expression in corporate stewardship 'sustainability journeys' of retailers123, although there are possible weaknesses in using 'journey' as a metaphor for measuring progress in sustainability124.

Successes, benefits and shortcomings

Although we could not directly measure the efficacy and drawbacks of stewardship schemes from our data, some published results offer indicators of their success. These indicators include participation levels in stewardship schemes, hectares of land in BSPs, or more tangible conservation outcomes, for example, significant reduction in seabird mortality in the hake trawl as a result of MSC certification125. Conversely, the withdrawal of Blue Flag status at Margate in KZN because of poor water quality has been equated to a substantial revenue loss.126 For conservancies, the growing number of voluntary participants, their presence in all provinces, and a national alliance that includes 'community level stewardship' in its vision are all positive trends. There are several recognised benefits to game ranching of consolidated estates, including more profitable (from an eco-tourism perspective) and viable wildlife populations, especially for larger species with bigger ranges.127

Another apparent benefit of BSPs is achieving national conservation goals at much lower cost to the state (than land acquisition). While this may be so for provincial agencies, conservation on private land is sometimes viewed as an 'unfunded mandate' by national agencies (e.g. South African National Parks) - in other words, the budgetary and human resource requirements are not commensurate with the area to be managed. Thus, while participating in BSPs is considered 'voluntary', the underlying biodiversity objectives may confound the voluntary nature of participation, as land with 'low' conservation value is not wanted, given the financial and human capacity requirements for extension services and other management costs. There must remain serious concerns regarding the statutory security of conservancies and other forms of biodiversity stewardship. The dependence of conservancies on the personal values of the participant casts doubt on whether they should be included under national conservation targets.116 For instance, an evaluation in 2010 of 280 BBI members indicated coverage of 250 153 ha of natural habitat; however, since 2006 there has been a loss of 2827 ha to habitat transformation and 892 ha to degradation,128 bringing some doubt over the sensibility of 'banking' on a volunteer mechanism to achieve national mandates.

Inasmuch as governmental agencies tasked with biodiversity conservation have embraced these new governance arrangements93 to achieve conservation targets, a single-minded focus on one mechanism may have additional drawbacks. For example, it may inadvertently cause neglect on other land with equally important biodiversity, such as 'escapee' pines invading state-controlled watersheds.129 The position of the state may even appear 'schizophrenic', especially when the state defaults on its fiduciary duty as public biodiversity custodian.130 At times, a government's action or inaction may pose a direct threat to biodiversity inside and outside protected areas, e.g. by assigning prospecting rights for shale gas across entire bioregions, or for benthic phosphate mining131; by permitting coal mining adjacent to nature reserves (e.g. at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi132); or by on-going political support to permit angling in Africa's oldest no-take Marine Protected Area, Tsitsikamma133,134 (recently gazetted by the Department of Environmental Affairs135). In such instances, civic or special interest groups or industries may adopt stewardship as an anti-measure to such threats136, evoking Section 24 of the South African Constitution - 'a right to a healthy environment and sustainable development and use of natural resources'. Examples of this type of adoption include the South African Deep Sea Trawling Industry Association (SADSTIA) 'forcing' management actions137 through the possible forfeiture of the MSC certification of the South African hake trawl fishery (as a result of management authority's impasse on collecting annual stock assessment data) in an arena in which political agendas sometimes appear to trump conservation ones138; and, most recently, SADSTIA aligning with NGOs to oppose bulk marine sediment mining authorised by the Minister of Mineral Affairs139. The breakdown in trust (of citizens in the state) resulting from a government's neglect of its duties as steward can be difficult to restore104, and can lead to instances of 'extreme' stewardship, e.g. the formation of vigilante groups140 against the abalone poaching crisis in South Africa141. Conversely, disparate views and apparent disasters can result in cooperative learning between diverse stakeholders, thereby improving ecosystem stewardship.142 In many African countries where the conservation priorities are clear, yet resources and capacities are genuinely lacking, management responsibility may be readily delegated to public-private partnerships driven by international NGOs.143

A contrasting scenario is presented by the primarily government driven schemes for ecosystem services restoration. For example, the cost-effectiveness of WfW has been assessed at local and national scales81,144 and, although many regard it as overwhelmingly positive, there is a sense that its overall performance needs to be improved, inter alia, by better prioritisation of alien invasive species, more targeted actions, and less emphasis on social benefits as a measure of success. Even less successful has been the ability to stimulate stewardship actions among private landowners, i.e. by maintaining cleared areas to prevent re-invasion after initial WfW clearing.

This inability may be because of uncertainty around the extent of state versus private responsibilities, and differential attitudes towards incentives or disincentives to participate.145 Nonetheless, negligence on private land erodes overall gains made by public programmes144 emphasising the importance of public-private relations.

Relationship to other management approaches

The stewardship approaches found in South Africa are similar to other conservation and natural resource management strategies elsewhere. For example, conservation easements in the United States of America146,147 are very similar to biodiversity stewardship agreements in South Africa: the term 'cooperative environmental governance systems' has been used to describe such arrangements148. Some believe that stewardship differs from other management systems by its recognition of 'embedded values' and preoccupation with conservation and sustainability.31 However, these traits are common to community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) - another decentralised approach to achieving environmental, social and economic goals by balancing the exploitation and conservation of valued ecosystem components.149 In CBNRM, voluntary local civic institutional arrangements are formed to manage natural resources, suggesting that it may be viewed as a form of stewardship150 or as a mechanism for achieving stewardship of watersheds151, and wildlife and forests152,153, and for sustainable rural agriculture154. Further, developing social capital, collaborative partnerships and networks have been highlighted as key principles of CBNRM155, which is echoed in the stewardship metaphor156. It is noteworthy that CBNRM predominantly focuses on common pool resources and is often underpinned by cultural and traditional values, e.g. the conservation of sacred landscapes157, totemic species or culturally important natural features158.

In practice, different conservation mechanisms are rarely applied in isolation and stewardship schemes may be seen as ancillary to tactics such as land acquisition (e.g. by the Nature Conservancy in the United States of America) that all form part of a modern strategic conservation approach159 in areas of high biodiversity, as in South Africa160. For example, WWF-SA, in addition to facilitating private land stewardship, actively pursues the expansion of existing or establishment of new protected areas through land acquisitions (ca 400 000 ha or 5% of the national terrestrial protected area estate), predominantly financed through land trusts.

Earth stewardship in South Africa?

In retrospect, it is apparent that many of the described stewardship schemes could fit under the banner of 'earth stewardship': operational at multiple scales with diverse stakeholders, and recognising interconnectedness, ethics and indigenous knowledge (for a snapshot of examples see Sayre et al.161 and papers in that volume). However, the dominance of contractual biodiversity conservation initiatives in the South African stewardship narrative has masked the emergence of a more holistic stewardship strategy as advancement on contemporary resource management approaches (as contemplated by Chapin et al.2).

The narrow association of stewardship with systematic biodiversity conservation plans and associated spatial priorities is perhaps not surprising, given that most post-colonial countries still develop within the 'constraints' of governance or management systems inherited from the North - much as 'global assemblages' can impact on poorer nations162 - in effect inhibiting the emergence of earth stewardship. Furthermore, weaker governance in some developing countries has driven 'decentralised' mechanisms of environmental decision-making and policy implementation at community level.163

Our research approach was unlikely to provide adequate resolution to detect the emergence of local-level governance approaches, especially for tacit (e.g. CBNRM and co-management) and local grassroots level (e.g. urban greening initiatives) stewardship forms that were under-represented in the information sources we consulted, and so more difficult to detect. In fact, the recent broadening of the stewardship narrative in South Africa - firstly by NGOs adopting the term 'earth stewardship'164 and, secondly, through the fairly rapid diversification away from a strictly biodiversity focus to more holistic models - suggests that a shift is taking place. In countries with a legacy of post-colonial land ownership, this shift may reflect recognition of the need to acknowledge and incorporate local socio-political issues into any stewardship approaches. This new approach is typified by the Community Ecosystems Based Adaptation ('CEBA') sites of the Wildlands Conservation Trust which uses a 'basket of products' approach (including 'Green-preneurship' and restoration), with implementation strategies165 that mirror many of the earth stewardship principles, while strongly emphasising involvement of local communities. There is thus a clear need to evolve Western-based concepts of stewardship and conservation to include indigenous values157 or more collaborative management approaches166.

Finally, while we believe that 'earth stewardship' may be an appropriate metaphoric term to describe the link between primarily conservation-driven schemes with more social and economic ones, it is unlikely to be an implementable 'catch-all' solution in countries with weak or ineffective governance systems (as suggested by Kinzig et al.167). Over-use of the term in a global or philosophical sense may eventually dilute its value and practicality in an implementation context. We contend that, to achieve sustainability or conservation outcomes, reliance on a single mechanism - whether voluntary (i.e. 'stewardship') and thus dependent on the social norms, ethics, values or behaviours of individuals, or as determined by government policies (i.e. mandatory or legislated) - is risky. This contention is important, as formalising any voluntary participation into binding agreements may result in issues similar to those faced by extant formal management systems, e.g. lack of capacity or 'non-compliance' by participants, and corruption. In a developing world context the need for complementarity between different management approaches168 is key to achieving the desired conservation and sustainability outcomes.



We are extremely grateful to the following people for valuable discussions, inputs and other contributions: O. Huyser, D. Nel, I. Kotze, A. Venter, G. Martindale (unpublished data on KwaZulu-Natal stewardship sites), J. Wesson (unpublished data on national conservancies), B. Schuman, M. Hope, A. Jones, A. Young (KZN conservancies), J. Lindsay (national conservancy information), M. Alant, N. Diederichs-Mander, K. McCann, K. Coetzee, A. du Plessis (Western Cape stewardship sites). All work was conducted in our academic or professional capacities, and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of our various organisations. Two anonymous reviewers provided invaluable comments and suggested improvements. J.B. was supported by a postdoctoral research grant from NMMU and SANParks.


Authors' contributions

The concept was developed by J.B., C.F. and D.R. J.B. collected and analysed the data with inputs from D.R., C.F., B.C. and N.W. J.B. wrote the manuscript with contributions from D.R., C.F., B.C. and N.W.



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Jaco Barendse
c/o Christo Fabricius, Sustainability Research Unit
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Private Bag X6531, George 6530
South Africa

Received: 10 Sep. 2015
Revised: 28 Nov. 2015
Accepted: 14 Dec. 2015





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