Removing thousands of water-eating eucalyptus trees is the least expensive and most effective way to help prevent another “Zero Day” in and around Cape Town. The mid-Breede River project is cutting down alien invasive trees along 25 km of the river near Bonnievale. The removal of the trees will return seven million liters of water per hectare to the river system.
With a touch of poetic justice, much of the harvested eucalyptus wood is being sold to global markets including Australia, where the trees originate, and Vietnam.
The project involves the Western Cape department of the LandCare Areawide Planning Initiative, Inhlabathi Environmental Services, farmers and private companies. Small, micro and medium-sized companies will receive consultancy and development training from Avocado Vision, an Inhlabathi affiliate, to ensure sustainability and increase jobs.
Since December, about 4,000 tonnes have been removed, said Inhlabathi director David Gardner, who led the project. It is rooted in a “virtuous cycle-based approach” that incorporates 100% deforestation of eucalyptus from river areas, ensuring that the maximum value is extracted from felled trees and that a certified post-treatment program is implemented to return the ecosystem to the to its original state.
“We are looking for ways to improve the economic value chains used to eradicate these trees,” says Gardner. “It is about reinventing how invasive alien species are managed. At the moment, [the removal of invasive trees] has been a program that is fully funded by the government, and we are trying to see how we can make it commercially viable. ”
Alien invasive trees were brought to South Africa because they had some economic value, explains Gardner. “Wattles were used for matchsticks and tannins. Eucalyptus trees were used as shade and wood, and many other things. Poplars were also used because they had very good wood. They liked our environment so much that they started to take control, specifically in these river areas. “
The potential for high-value commercial use includes decks, furniture, handicrafts, charcoal, chips for invigorating the soil and firewood.
In 2019, research by The Nature Conservancy showed how the removal of invasive exotic plants was the most economical intervention to avoid Day Zero, providing the greatest water-saving potential.
The cost per 1,000 liters of water saved in six years is R1.20 for the removal of foreign plants in seven sub-basin areas, resulting in potential water savings in six years of 55.6 billion liters. Desalination by 1,000 liters costs R $ 15.30, with savings of 55 billion liters in six years. For the reuse of wastewater, the cost per 1,000 liters is R $ 11.40, saving 39.2 billion liters. The use of underground water sources costs R7.05 per 1,000 liters, saving 36.5 billion liters of water.
Western Cape Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer said in a statement that increased pollution incidents and an increase in invasive exotic plants would decrease water availability and quality, creating the perfect conditions for soil erosion, soil degradation. land and loss of biodiversity.
Rudolph Röscher, LandCare district manager in the Cape Winelands district, described how drought helped to raise farmers’ awareness of the amount of water that invasive exotic plants use. “What makes this project unique is that it is a private sector investor who saw the opportunity and made contact with farmers. And also taking the risk, saying: ‘We are confident enough with the market, abroad or locally, to harvest the wood’, at no cost to the landowner or the government, saving taxpayers’ money ”.