Cape Town has experienced its share of environmental challenges in recent years. Severe drought, extreme weather and wildfires have become common occurrences, and the South African city nearly ran out of water in 2017 before being hit by torrential rains and related flooding.
Concerned about these events, a local NGO sponsored a week of collaborative restoration-oriented activities in September – the Eden Festival of Action 2021 – to raise awareness of the importance of protecting and restoring wild spaces to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“We see a great opportunity here to work with local stakeholders to catalyze a local movement to restore degraded landscapes and bring hope,” said Misha Teasdale, co-founder and CEO of Greenpop, the environmental organization that held the festival. Greenpop is also a member of GLFx Cape Town, a local chapter of the Global Landscapes Forum that is implementing climate activities in landscapes around the world.
Taking place in the picturesque Tsitsikamma National Forest, which borders the western and eastern Cape, the restoration festival included talks and workshops from sustainability experts, creative enterprises that work in the arts, live music groups and restoration project teams. Participants planted 1,000 trees, cleared hectares of invasive black wattle (an evergreen tree originally from Australia), and cleared beaches of plastic and other debris in Nature’s Valley near Plettenberg Bay. The festival promoted an environmentally friendly lifestyle, with tent accommodations and plant-based meals prepared with cooking demonstrations in a ‘green’ village.
“The whole experience helped me to realize that there are many other things to do in life besides the usual nine-to-five office work,” commented one participant from Slovakia on the Eden Festival website. “It pushed me to look out of my own ‘world’ and see things that really matter in the world. I believe this experience enriched me in many ways.”
Another attendee from South Africa added: “The biggest lesson I learned is that what we do today has an incredible impact on our tomorrow, whether we see it right away or not. I have learned to take a few extra minutes before making a decision to think about the impact that my decision will have on my tomorrow.”
The southern Cape is still recovering from the 2017 and 2018 wildfires. Considered among the worst fires in South African history, the firestorms blazed across a scenic coastal area known as the Garden Route National Park, a biodiversity hotspot whose name is inspired by the prevalence of an indigenous shrubland vegetation there known as fynbos, which supports a wide range of native plants.
The national forest’s recent fires reflect the greater frequency of wildfires in the greater Cape Town area in the past decade due to high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds and fuel from invasive vegetation such as pine and gum trees. Meanwhile, the Cape provinces of South Africa have experienced the second-largest number of seed-bearing plant disappearances (37 plants overall, compared to Hawaii, which ranked highest with 79 plant extinctions) since 1900 due to changes in land use and population pressures.
Cape Town has developed a climate strategy to address these challenges. Joining 13 other African C40 cities, the African network of cities devoted to addressing climate change, Cape Town has committed to clean energy and more use of renewables, recycling, and sustainable transportation as strategies to mitigate climate change and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement. For example, Cape Town has enabled rooftop solar panels to be legally connected to the electricity grid and installed solar panels on several municipal buildings.
But even as the city begins to confront the climate crisis, local groups will continue reaching out to local residents to do what they can. As the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration gets underway, Greenpop views its annual Eden Festival as a way to bring people together and inspire sustained action against landscape degradation, both in South Africa and beyond.
“We hope to grow this concept of restorative eventing by bringing together large groups of active citizens in a way that gives them inspiration, tools and access to being restorers themselves,” Teasdale said.
“By introducing people from all walks of life to a broad variety of practices, we have witnessed a significant evolution in those attending who become leaders in their own right. Additionally, we are able to share a strong message about the importance of restoration which is so needed globally.”
To learn more, register your interest in the Eden Festival of Action 2022 here. Greenpop will also host a sister restoration celebration, the Reforest Fest, in April 2022. Register and find out more here.