Ecological Infrastructure Investment Framework (EIIF) | DEA&DP

What is EI?

Ecological Infrastructure is the collective term used to refer to the various human, non-human and abiotic components that interact to give rise to ecosystem goods and services.  Ecosystem goods and services are goods and services that we receive from nature, often free of charge.  There are four general categories of ecosystem goods and services, which are provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural goods and services.  Ecological Infrastructure and Ecosystem Goods and Services both fall within a philosophy which is increasingly being used to remind people of these benefits, and to factor ecosystems in decision making.  The paradigm is particularly useful when comparing nature-based solutions (Ecological Infrastructure and Ecosystem Goods and Services) with engineered solutions (e.g. built infrastructure), allowing decision takers to consider ecological interventions within their suite of options when resolving issues.

Why is it important?

As people increasingly live in cities, our connection and dependance on the natural systems that underpin life on Earth becomes more obscure.  People become familiar with their water coming from taps, and municipal infrastructure, their food coming from shops, and are generally divorced from the immediate and short term impacts of changes in rural land use practices (such as declines in insect diversity as a result of monocultures, or worsening river health due to agricultural inputs).  This is called the human-nature divide, and as urbanization increases, there is increasing risk of a worsening human-nature divide.  The Ecological Infrastructure and Ecosystem Goods and Services paradigm is an effective way of reminding people of their natural underpinning, and the importance of looking after nature to continue receiving these benefits. 

The Disney Pixar movie, The Lorax, is a good example of ecosystem services (clean fresh air) and how the mismanagement (unsustainable harvesting of truffula trees) of the ecological infrastructure providing these services (the truffula trees and the ecosystem dependent on them – the barbaloots, the humming fish, and the swomee swans) results in a community (Thneedville) having to pay for something they used to get free of charge. 

Globally, we’re already seeing instances where mismanagement of ecosystems has resulted in the collapse of certain ecosystem goods and services (such as pollination), requiring some parts of China to employ people to pollinate apple orchards.  Given that people are not natural pollinators, we’re pretty bad at it, which reduces the yield of these orchards.  The end result is an inferior product that costs the consumer more.

In short, as the global population becomes increasingly urban and we are increasing divorced from the natural underpinnings of our livelihoods, the risk of ecological mismanagement through ecologically blind or unwise decisions increases.  Continued ecological mismanagement or destruction results in the collapse of entire ecosystems and their services, and the subsequent need to establish and fund engineered alternatives for currently free ecosystem goods and services.  The Ecological Infrastructure and Ecosystem Goods and Services philosophy aims to ameliorate this worrying trend by ensuring that decisions are ecologically conscious, and that nature-based solutions are considered.  

What are we doing in the space nationally, historically?

South Africa is one of the World’s leading countries when it comes to understanding our ecological underpinnings.  As such, the concept of looking towards nature for solutions is perhaps not as novel locally as it is abroad.  An internationally acclaimed example of a nature-based solution took place in South Africa in 1995, when a number of South Africa’s leading minds approached national government and put forward the option of clearing water-sapping alien invasive plants from key catchments as an alternative to building costly dams and other engineered solutions.  The benefits associated with their proposal outweighed those of the other solutions being considered (SEE FIGURE 1), and the government established the Working for Water programme as a result. 

Since 1995, teams have been clearing alien invasive plants throughout South African catchments with varying success.  After more than 25 years’ experience with guidance from national government around ecological infrastructure investment, the Western Cape Government undertook to establish a provincial framework that aims to improve goal attainment around investing in ecological infrastructure, thereby proving and improving the return from such investments, and encouraging increased investment from more stakeholders.  This framework is called the Ecological Infrastructure Investment Framework (EIIF)

What is the EIIF?

The EIIF is a flagship project undertaken by the Western Cape Government in close collaboration with the key national and provincial government entities involved in current ecological investment (specifically around the clearing and management of alien invasive plants).  The framework comprises a series of key documents which set out the investment objectives associated with the EIIF, and set out both a reactive and proactive approach to eradicating and properly managing invasive alien species in the province.  The four investment objectives arrived at in the EIIF are as follows:

  • Improved provisioning of water and its quality;
  • Reduced risk of flooding;
  • Reduced risk of wildfires; and
  • Improved rangeland management (healthier soils, improved primary productivity).

These investment objectives will steer ecological investment in the province towards the following vision:

“By 2040, people of the Western Cape live and organise themselves in a way that promotes healthy and resilient ecological infrastructure, so that it yields goods and services that support physical, psychological and spiritual well-being in the face of population pressure, rapid urbanisation and climate change.”

Where is the EIIF going?

While the EIIF was only released for public use this month, there are a number of projects that have subsequently been informed by it.  These projects include:

The Keurbooms Karatara Ecological Infrastructure Working Group

  • A working group that explores the implementation of the EIIF in the Keurbooms and Karatara

The Biomass and Carbon Economies project (Karatara business model and pilot project)

  • The development of a business model for the harvesting of alien invasive plants in the Karatara Catchment that can be utilized as inputs into existing and future value-added industries surrounding biochar, activated carbon and wood vinegar.  This project included the development of a pilot project, for which funds are currently being sought.

Holsloot mapping initiative

  • Prioritising the mapping of alien invasive plants within the Holsloot Catchment, which is a priority catchment as identified by the EIIF.

Waste to Wing initiative

  • An initiative to attract international investors for jet fuel created from harvested alien invasive plant biomass.

The Restore Eden Programme

  • An initiative to promote ecologically conscious landscape practices within the Eden District, including the eradication and management of alien invasive plants and the establishment of value-added industries around these harvested plants.

The EIIF includes an Implementation Monitoring Plan, which will be expanded upon in the coming years, and will set a baseline upon which the return from investment can be accurately articulated to potential investors.  As more stakeholders come on board, the likelihood of reaching the initial investment objectives outlined in the EIIF will improve.  The EIIF is a living framework, and the feedback loops established through the Implementation and Monitoring Plan will be utilized to adjust the framework moving forward, to ensure efficacy, and appropriateness to context.