Thursday, January 1, 2009

What is Renu-Karoo?

- Richard Dean -

In common with Outa Schoeman and his ideas of "creating something out of nothing", we've long dreamed of a biodiversity-based business that can provide employment, interest a wide range of people in the natural environment of Prince Albert, contribute to tidying up the village, and earn an income. Analogous to the concept of the phoenix, a bird of ancient Egyptian mythology that rises from the ashes and symbolises renewal, our vision is a business that turns refuse into compost to grow a wide range of indigenous plants, revitalise gardens and grow food, and which will breathe new life into tired Karoo veld using seeds collected from our seed orchard and roadsides.

Over the past two years, thanks to assistance from the Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation (UK) and from the Plant Conservation Unit at the University of Cape Town, helpful cooperation from the Prince Albert Municipality, advice from Western Cape Agriculture, LandCare, Pat Marincowitz, Leon de Wit and many others, and hard work by ourselves and our employees, parts of the dream are becoming reality, and the phoenix is rising.

The red-roofed shed on the land below the sewage ponds is the business centre from where Renu-Karoo will market indigenous plants, seeds, compost and potting soil. A start has been made with the indigenous nursery – and 60 species of local trees, shrubs and succulents are now available for gardens, landscaping and veld restoration. In addition to our plants, 15 tons of compost are in the making and compost and potting soil will soon be offered for sale. The Renu-Karoo seed pickers have collected 40 kg of Karoo bietou and skaapertjie seed from the seed orchard just beyond the sewage works, and a further 80 kg of seed (including ganna, kapok, bloubuffelgras, vingerhoedgras) from the roadsides. Most of these seeds have already been sold for restoration of damaged veld, old lands and mining sites around the Karoo.

We started this business with very little knowledge and are learning every day by trial and error – but also through more formal education. Sue and three employees, Wilfred Luttig, Meraai Isaacs and Mexalene Jaftha attended a plant propagation training course at the Working for Water indigenous restoration nursery near Patensie in early December and hope to put their training to good use in the nursery, as well as to train and advise others interested in growing plants. For example, over the December school vacation we gave a plant propagation workshop for school learners.

In 2009 two Nature Conservation students, Rudi Swart and Aneléh Vorster, from the Saasveld Campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University will be working full time with Renu-Karoo Veld Restoration staff as part of their experiential training. We hope that Rudi and Aneléh will enjoy their year in Prince Albert and find it a friendly place, and that they will join our employees in making a great contribution to Renu-Karoo and to village life through their involvement in veld restoration experiments, seed collection and testing, plant propagation, compost making, marketing, education and tourism. Our phoenix has indeed risen at least some of the way. The challenge now is to keep it on the up.

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