Each year, alien invasive plants consume millions of litres of water in water catchment areas around South Africa, resulting in water shortages in many towns and cities and permanent losses to an already stressed water system.

Not only is climate change affecting entire natural water systems, but demand is outstripping supply in many urban areas.

Through the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), The Coca-Cola Foundation is investing USD 1.275M in five projects to remove ‘thirsty’ invasive alien plants from five main water catchment areas that will replenish up to 2,800 million litres of water back into nature.

Speaking at the launch of the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy said, “Government simply cannot do it alone and we need active private sector, community and citizen involvement.”

“Over the next five years we must continue and grow our efforts. Firstly, we need to work together to improve stream and river-related ecological infrastructure – by clearing invasive alien plant infestations, especially in mountain catchments and riparian areas. And by reinstating, restoring, rehabilitating and maintaining the buffers of natural vegetation along streams and rivers. Secondly, we must improve wetland- and estuary-related ecological infrastructure through restoration and rehabilitation. Thirdly, we must ensure that our programme to expand protected areas includes the formal protection of key catchment areas,” said Minister Creecy.

General Manager of the South African Franchise of The Coca-Cola Company, Luis Avellar added, “Apart from reducing water usage in our plants, we are investing in providing cost-effective solutions to managing water security in South Africa. These investments in ‘ecological infrastructure’ are designed to address issues of water security upstream in watersheds, in cost effective and locally appropriate ways, rather than prohibitively expensive solutions downstream, such as groundwater extraction or desalination.”

While each of the projects is geographically diverse, most catchment areas are remote, and the projects support economic empowerment and skills development in rural areas across South Africa. In total, the projects will seek to clear more than 750 hectares of invasive alien plants and will employ 130 people, focusing on providing training, mentorship and job opportunities for women and youth.

“The economic empowerment of vulnerable communities is a key element of our water stewardship efforts as we seek to contribute to job creation and inclusive growth in South Africa,” says Avellar.

The five new projects are spread across South Africa and focus on involving local communities, while addressing water security on a larger scale. The five implementing partners and projects are:

  1. The Nature Conservancy: Expansion of the alien invasive plant removal site for The Greater Cape Town Water Fund to the Wemmershoek Dam, serving the Greater Cape Town area
  2. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature: Catchment restoration in the upper Umzimvubu, Matatiele in the Eastern Cape, serving East London
  3. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature: Wetland rehabilitation with the Wolseley Water Users Association in the Western Cape, serving the Greater Cape Town area
  4. Living Lands: Invasive alien plant removal accompanied by landscape restoration in the Diep River of the Langkloof as part of The Algoa Water Fund for Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality
  5. Endangered Wildlife Trust: Water Conservation in the Soutpansberg Mountains of Limpopo, serving towns such as Polokwane, Mokopane, Mookgopong, Modimolle, Louis Trichardt, Musina and Lephalale

This work builds on two other RAIN projects in South Africa. In 2018, The Coca-Cola Foundation provided seed funding for The Nature Conservancy’s Greater Cape Town Water Fund on the Atlantis Aquifer. This has since been expanded to employ more than 50 women and young people. This project will conclude at the end of 2019.

The Coca-Cola Foundation also invested in catchment restoration in the Baviaanskloof of the Eastern Cape with implementing partner, Living Lands. This work concluded in March 2019, successfully restoring 1,460 ha of degraded lands. On the back of the Foundation’s seed investment, Living Lands was able to raise funding to provide operational security for their Baviaanskloof work for five years.

As climate change disrupts the water system, affecting drinking water supplies, sanitation, food and energy production, the Coca-Cola Foundation and its local implementing partners are leading the way in strategic investments to manage key watersheds to optimise the country’s water supply into the future.

“The most effective work happens when there is collaboration across the public and private spheres for the benefit of the local communities,” concluded Avellar.