CAPE TOWN: The South African government has drawn up some of the most advanced environmental laws and policies on the continent, since its transition to a democratic state in 1994. In a recent overview of these, University of Cape Town (UCT) resource economist Dr Jane Turpie has identified key areas were future research is needed, in order to boost this policy further, with responses to climate change being a key theme.
CAPE TOWN: South Africa’s oceans and beaches boost the country’s economy by roughly 35 percent, in terms of the ‘goods and services’ they provide. This is highlighted in a report released recently by the local branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which gives an overview of the economic value of South Africa’s marine environments.
CAPE TOWN: A study into the structure of the South African hake fishing industry, which finds that keeping the industry serviced by bigger companies is less environmentally hazardous, has won an economics student at the University of Cape Town this year’s best Honours level thesis in the School of Economics.
CAPE TOWN: A study of how small-scale farmers in the Western Cape, South Africa, shape their decisions around using conventional or organic farming methods, based on their perceived risks, has won an economics Masters student at the University of Cape Town (UCT) an award for the best thesis in her year.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: When home owners at a seaside residential complex in Milnerton, Cape Town, decided to pile up sandbags between the beach and their gardens in the early 2000s, their intention was to stop the high tide from eating away at their plots during storm surges. What they didn’t anticipate was that this erosion control measure would make their property prices fall, reduce beach space, drive away tourists, and leave the beach strewn with litter.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA: When a touring group of 289 mountain bikers needs to cross legally from Botswana into Zimbabwe, and then South Africa (SA), far from any official border posts, it means setting up informal but bureaucratically-sound passport control points in dry river beds or on dirt tracks.
WORCESTER, SOUTH AFRICA: If the South African government gives the green light for private energy companies to begin extracting shale gas using the method of hydrological fracturing, or ‘fracking’, will it have economic benefits for the region and the country? And if so, could these be offset by the cost of the potential negative impacts to other sectors and communities in the water-scarce Karoo, where fracking is being considered?
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: Tanzanian households, who are heavily dependent on small-holder and often subsistence farming for their livelihoods, benefit from the free ecosystem services offered by wild pollinators, which boost agriculture yields.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: Nature can help to purify the water we drink. When a forest upstream of a water treatment plant is intact and healthy, the water arriving in the plant can be of better quality than if the forest has been heavily harvested or clear-felled. Better quality water arriving in the plant, means fewer chemicals needed to clean the water, and the purification costs are therefore lower.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: A working group of resource economists met in Cape Town this April to agree on the methods they will use in order to contribute to the development of a standardised national accounting system for valuing ecosystem services.
When a country wants to tally up its economic performance, it generally uses ‘gross domestic product’ as its measuring stick. That’s a global standard of accounting, agreed upon according to the United Nations’ ‘systems of national accounting’, which allows all countries of the world to compare apples with apples in their economic reporting.
SOUTH AFRICA: Charging a premium for peak-time electricity could be an effective way of getting city consumers to spread their power use more evenly throughout the day, helping the national utility to manage the country’s grid more effectively.
Stellenbosch, South Africa: An experimental geyser control device, which is operated via the internet a smart phone app, has the potential to cut household water heating by up to 30 percent without users noticing a change to their hot water use habits.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA: In informal settlements and lower income homes in Cape Town, most household water use is for doing laundry. However, in the middle class suburbs, it’s mostly for showering and topping up swimming pools. This finding, from a recent municipal survey in five suburbs across South Africa’s ‘mother city’, underpins an ongoing drive to educate city residents about their water use patterns, in order to urge behaviour change.
CAPE TOWN: South Africa’s bigger cities get a large amount of their revenue from the sale of electricity and water to consumers. And owing to the pricing structure of these services, cities earn more from large-volume users, and use this revenue to cross-subsidise smaller volume users, who often fall in lower income communities.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA The water flowing down the Berg River, towards the Cape West Coast and Saldanha Bay, is the lifeblood of two competing sectors: heavy industry, and agriculture. But as demand for this limited resource grows, how do the water managers decide who gets access to it, when the water in the river is already fully allocated between existing users?
Not all economists buy into the notion of the ‘resource curse’ - namely, that resource-rich countries end up with slower growth and stalled development, in spite of having bankable natural assets. Newly appointed associate professor Mare Sarr argues that principles of transparency, accountability and institutions are more important factors leading to whether countries use or abuse their natural wealth.
Natural spaces within city limits, such as wetlands or forests, can offer important support to cities in terms of helping to manage waste water, or slow down flood waters. But scientists shouldn’t over-sell certain of these ecosystem services when lobbying for their protection with city managers, because it could lead to greater pressure being put on these already over-pressured systems.
The beautiful Kogelberg coastline - a 100 km long stretch of towering mountains and craggy beaches about an hour’s drive east of Cape Town - and its surrounding tourist attractions are estimated to have a ‘recreational value’ of about US$27.2 million (ZAR272 million) annually.
Newly appointed professor Edwin Muchapondwa has travelled a long way since he left his home town of Bindura, near Harare, when he was eight years old. Over three decades later, the conservation and development challenges of rural Zimbabwe remain front and centre for the University of Cape Town (UCT) economist.
Southern African states need to create the right policy, fight corruption and build infrastructure if they want tourism to thrive in their countries. By doing so, they will allow the economic development potential of the sector to trickle down to communities in a way that encourages inclusive and sustainable growth.
When ecotourism lodges employ people from within some remote communities in Southern Africa, they are often giving them their first permanent job. This highlights the importance of these staff being given adequate training as they fill their posts.
When local communities in Ethiopia benefit financially from having access to state forests for harvesting timber and other products, they are more likely to invest in their children’s education and start up small businesses.
How will people behave as they’re faced with the challenges of climate change? Will they work together to cut carbon emissions, in the interest of the greater good, or will they act in their own self-interest? And how much of a gamble will people take as they grapple with how to cope with living in a world where extreme weather events become the new ‘normal’?
Dr Kerri Brick recently won the prestigious Economic Society of South Africa (ESSA) prize for the best doctoral dissertation submitted in 2014. The Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) fellow, based at the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics, submitted a thesis based on four papers which explore how people might respond to different aspects of the challenges which climate change presents society.
Since the Ethiopian government has changed the nature of forestry related property rights in order to allow communities in south-western Ethiopia to harvest timber and other resources in state forests, these communities have benefited from increased income as they now sell timber, wild coffee and honey.
When it comes to enforcing harvesting limits in forests in Ethiopia, it is more effective when communities monitor themselves, rather than when the state serves this function. But the cost of this monitoring needs to be kept low, if it is to be most successful.
It was a spontaneous turn off her intended route through Oxford 17 years ago, and into a side street, that led geographer Gina Ziervogel into the lobby of a building that would become the institutional home where she gained her doctorate, and launched her into a career that recently landed her a top research award here in South Africa.
Human beings are more complicated than early economists like to believe, and they make economic decisions based on factors that don’t necessarily boil down to money, argues Prof Martine Visser from the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
For every one person employed by certain high-end tourism lodges in southern Africa, seven people benefit from the downstream flow of that income. Meanwhile, staff employed in these sorts of ventures help grow the local economy by spending their wages at community stores where they do their grocery shopping. Or they drive secondary employment through hiring people for child care or to tend their livestock while they work. Or they’re sending their children to school.
The work by Mary Karumba, a doctoral researcher at the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Research Policy Unit (EPRU) in South Africa, recently received some international coverage when the Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF) ran a column on the work she is doing in her home country.
A tattoo artist, a bread maker, a ‘spaza’ shop owner, and a hair stylist - all from the small town of Piketberg, in the wheat- and fruit-farming region about an hour’s drive north-east of Cape Town - have something unusual in common. And it’s all in their wallets.
When poorer rural families in Zimbabwe are able to collect bushmeat, it may allow them to increase their household income through selling the meat within their communities. This means that if policies help support communities’ access to wildlife, these can address poverty and decrease the inequality gap in these areas.
The economic theory taught from textbooks in South African universities is 50 years out of date and needs an urgent revision, argues economist and fisheries expert Prof Tony Leiman.
Local communities are getting involved more and more in conservation projects in and around protected areas in southern Africa, as a way of complementing government-led or private sector efforts to shore up biodiversity and nature conservation.
Cities in sub-Saharan Africa are growing fast, and with that, many are losing their urban green spaces. Placing a value on such urban spaces can motivate policymakers to prioritise conservation or restoration of natural systems which provide important environmental services and contribute to human wellbeing.
What is the best way to nudge people towards using water and electricity more efficiently? This question is central to a study which kicks off this year in two municipalities in South Africa, with the idea of rolling the models out nationally in the long term.
How can tourism operators and nature conservationists leverage the most eco-tourism benefits for communities living on the borders of protected areas and conservancies?
The Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at the School of Economics, University of Cape Town, is looking for a researcher to participate in a three year research project in ecosystem service accounting.
The Competition Commission has urged the South African government to revisit the fishing rights allocation process in a way that will counter what it perceives as entrenched anti-competitive behaviour in the industry. And the approaching end to the current cycle of fishing rights, which closes in 2020, will provide the industry with the ideal opportunity to restructure rights with this in mind.
The newspaper Farmer’s Weekly reported on EfD South Africa research fellow Byela Tibesigwa's research findings on subsistence mixed farming strategy and climate change. Dr Tibesigwa's research work entitled “The impact of climate change on net revenue and food adequacy of subsistence farming households in South Africa” was co-authored with Professor Martine Visser and Dr Jane Turpie.
"This very readable book on Forest Tenure Reform in Asia and Africa looks at different countries’ strategies to use tenure innovations to manage forest resources. An especially interesting contribution is the comparison of China’s privatization of forest rights to the community-based forestry management approach in other developing countries," says Peter Berck, Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Policy, S.J. Hall Professor of Forestry, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
The value of shark tourism and similar ‘non-consumptive’ uses of sharks has long been used to build a case for conservation-based management of this marine resource. And yet the figures used to compare the economic worth of these industries with the fishing of sharks, is a potentially misleading apples-and-oranges comparison, argues resource economist Chris Bova.
Kerri Brick, researcher with the Environmental Research Policy Unit (EPRU) at the University of Cape Town, has wrapped up her doctoral thesis, which uses behavioural economics to understand how people might respond to a more variable climate.
South Africa’s marine fisheries’ contribution to the country’s GDP is relatively small, but the economic implications of how these marine resources are managed has far-reaching effects for small communities who are dependent on access to the sea for their livelihoods. And yet government management of fisheries over the past two years has been woefully inadequate, according to a Cape Town economist and fisheries specialist.
Electric cars, and plug-in hybrids, could account for as much as 20% of the new car market in South Africa by 2030. But the uniqueness of the domestic car manufacturing industry, the sprawling nature of the country’s cities, and policy uncertainty remain key stumbling blocks to this sector taking off.
Forest-dwelling communities in south-western Ethiopia, who have been organised into community cooperatives and allowed to harvest wild coffee, honey and other forest products, have benefited from the regular income which this new marketing model brings them. But the security that comes with this predictable income means they aren’t saving for a rainy day.
When some remote communities in Kenya can’t access the national grid, they build their own small scale hydro power projects to meet basic household electricity needs. But if people don’t work together to share the small amount of electricity such a scheme generates, the mini-grid collapses, plunging everyone into the dark.
PhD candidate and researcher Jackson Otieno, associated with the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Environmental Research Policy Unit (EPRU) in South Africa, jets off to France early in October to join the Toulouse School of Economics for three months of training, before embarking on his doctoral field work in 2015.
Kenya doctoral student Boscow Okumu will return to Cape Town, South Africa, late in October, following a four month study trip to the Nairobi School of Monetary Studies where he has been training alongside researchers from across the continent. This was part of a study elective that focused on environmental economics and econometrics.