Following diamond mining on South Africa's West Coast, the Namaqualand Restoration Initiative of Nurture Restore Innovate (NRI) focuse s on the restoration of the Succulent Karoo Biome (SCB), the world's only arid biodiversity hotspot. Since it's establishment in 2007 by Dr Peter Carrick of UCT's Plant Conservation Unit, more than 500 hectares have been restored, new skills have been provided to 120 people and 30 permanent jobs created (nuturerestoreinnovate.wordpress.com). NRI has now moved beyond this original Biome and is active in arid areas throughout southern Africa; and soon hopefully beyond this too.
NRI is an interesting and ground-breaking business model coupling together two social innovations fostering local Namaqualand community entrepreneurs who have established "restoration businesses". These businesses create essential, new job opportunities in regions where on the conclusion of the diamond mining operations, communities were left with few alternative possibilities for employment. Ecological restoration on a single large mine can create enough work for 200 people over a 10-year period.
Surface mining has degraded in excess of 30,000 hectares along the West Coast, indicating so much remains to be done. At the outset, little research had been undertaken and common opinion was that the very arid, West Coast, diamond mining landscape could not be rehabilitated. There is now real hope that beyond the restoration-related jobs, once the ecosystems have been reestablished, ecotourism and support for livestock grazing will bring further jobs to the area.
Careful research has created the rigorous science and best practice guidelines that underpin the success of the initiative. There is also a longer-term approach, which contrasts with the conventional "quick-fix" interventions that characterize the more usual approach to post mining rehabilitation. The training, mentoring and guidelines have also to the result of translating the collected scientific approach into an accessible format for the community entrepreneurs to enable them to understand the relevant ecology and master the relevant techniques.
A key innovation of the NRI is the "Restoration Pack" system, which is now even being used beyond South Africa's shores in Australia and being taught in the USA. The pack comprises seeds of key plants that provide the important structure of the ecosystem (key "functional types, as well as condition/terrain appropriate species) in temporary biodegradable shelters which mimic the mature plants that would normally provide shelter to new emerging seedlings. The process of planting patches of Restoration Packs is labour intensive and the environment is certainly challenging with only 50 to 150 mm rain per annum and strong wind.
NRI was the winner of the NGO category in the 2012 NSTF-BHP Billiton Awards. The whole enterprise was catalyzed by a grant from the Washington-based Critical Ecosystem Partnership fund, and once the science was developed into an implementable system and sound business model for the mentored local restoration contractors, the role out of restoration has been sustained by mining corporations' investment in responsible practices.