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WRC lighthouse 4 - The Green Village (GV) - A Partnership Programme

Within the global context of reducing carbon footprints by adopting more environmentally-friendly options (‘green’ options), in realisation of the centrality and importance of healthy ecosystems, the international community has committed itself to moving towards a green economy more strongly than ever before. The ‘green economy’ is broadly defined as development that results in improved human well-being, social equity and access to resources while significantly reducing environmental risks. A green economy is therefore modelled on acknowledging that ecological infrastructure and services have an economic value.
The focus of the Green Village Lighthouse (GV) is to take the aspirations of the green economy, unpack them to finer scales, and test them in selected catchments, based on a partnership of committed stakeholders/shareholders. This is being done through a process of analysing local needs relative to the  research products available to address these, conducting a research gap analysis, and directing research to close the described gaps. The Green Village programme is envisaged to run over 15 years, with 5-year review intervals. Due to the complexity (multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral) of the initiative, an adaptive management approach, spanning the household/village scale through to the larger catchment and national scales, is envisaged, through a continuous search for practical models. In order to sustain the GV, it must excite the targeted marginalised communities by addressing their basic needs, such as generating green jobs without compromising the integrity of the environment. In short, the GV must add value and transform living standards, creating economically active communities which are integrated into the mainstream economy.

The GV goal envisaged by the WRC is that of a knowledgeable rural community in which a healthy ecological infrastructure is maintained, which practises sustainable and productive agriculture, and utilises renewable energy.
Of the 51.7 million people in South Africa, some 12 million languish in poverty, the majority of which are resident in an estimated 23 district municipalities spread across the country, but mainly concentrated in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Drastic and innovative rescue measures or special development interventions are required. A vast number of these people either survive on social grants or migrate to urban areas in search of better livelihoods, the hop of which is in many cases unfulfilled, resulting in increased unemployment figures.

Despite efforts by Government to provide services to people, there is still a huge backlog, particularly in off-grid communities. Ecosystems continue to degrade further despite advanced and world-class legislation.
Rural development, aimed at addressing the needs of marginalised rural communities, has generally been undertaken within a sectoral framework and singular disciplines (‘silos’), i.e., a particular intervention is driven largely in isolation from any other needs of these communities. The WRC and other research organizations have produced numerous guidelines, methods and procedures on water services enhancement, food security, energy, rehabilitation, and biodiversity protection.  Lack of integration of these products and services to meet a diverse yet inter-related range of basic needs in rural areas means that these communities will remain in poverty for the foreseeable future. Government’s Constitutional obligation to provide services such as electricity and water is frequently met with challenges in often dispersed rural households.  There are other ingredients required to ensure sustainable well-being, such as some level of basic education, infrastructure, productive and willing stakeholders, and accessible and viable markets. Other challenges that must be resolved to restore confidence and trust within rural communities include land/property rights, safety/security, balance of gender/power, etc. The move from a singular to a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral programmatic approach, as anticipated by the GV, is aimed at demonstrating that basic services provision can be achieved without compromising ecological infrastructure, through exploring greener alternatives. To achieve this mission, the following strategic objectives will be addressed progressively over 15 years, using various scenarios depending on selected sites:

  • Develop an integrated framework for rural development that benefits communities with minimal risks to environment
  •  Improve livelihoods through measurable healthy living conditions
  •  Improve water ecosystems, and food and energy security
  •  Improve human health and dignity through adequate sanitation and solid waste management
  • Build a knowledgeable society with improved competency for integrated catchment management and development
  • Support job creation, local economic empowerment and development.

The GV programme will demonstrate that an integrated multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach to implementation of scientific and technological knowledge can be achieved as an affordable investment that benefits targeted communities, shareholders (funders and researchers) and the environment. While more research gaps still need to be closed, numerous tools already exist and these will be piloted in concert for a selected rural village, such as Okhombe. This is proposed as a 15-year demonstration programme which will provide the following outcomes:

  • A community receiving basic needs, transformed and greatly self-sufficient living in harmony with the environment
  • Adaptable framework outlining how community traditions, government policies, and business principles in collaboration can result in improvement of livelihoods
  • Tested guidelines for the integration of research products, and green technologies leading to economically viable job creation and markets
  • Social, economic and environmental learning which leads to resilient systems and green rural societies

Tested monitoring and evaluation programmes that identify knowledge gaps and inform further research
The GV programme is led and coordinated by the WRC in partnership with relevant implementing stakeholders, such as traditional authorities, Government, business and research institutions. Detailed demonstration and implementation planning is being finalised, based on inputs from experts through workshops, dialogues, symposia, and current and directed research calls. In summary, the GV will be executed as follows:

  •  Initially focus on the research portfolio and analysis level in an attempt to establish needs/possible tools for solutions 
  •  Secure developmental models and scenarios
  •  Identify possible science and technology interventions
  • Demonstrate what the integrated approach can achieve, and market the idea to implementers/funders
  •  Develop models for up-scaling the framework for implementation
  • Look for innovative solutions at a small scale with potential for IP/beneficiation
  •  Support entrepreneurship and green job creation
    NB: The WRC focus remains on the generation of new knowledge, testing and providing knowledge to the implementers (Government/society).
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