A suitability assessment of farms for inclusion in a UNESCO-approved biosphere reserve : the case of the Itala Biosphere Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal.
This project describes and evaluates a method of assessing the suitability of 161 farms for inclusion in a biosphere reserve. Farms were chosen as a basic study unit over more ecologically based units because the decision to participate in the biosphere reserve rests with the landowner. The study area is located in northern KwaZulu-Natal, between Hlobane, near Vryheid, and the Itala Nature Reserve where local landowners are exploring the possibility of establishing a biosphere reserve. A brief review of the natural, social and economic contexts is given in order to identify local dynamics relevant to the establishment of a biosphere reserve. Farm suitability for inclusion was assessed with respect to its capability to fulfil the three main roles of a biosphere reserve as defined by the Man and Biosphere Programme of UNESCO. These are conservation, sustainable development and research. Ten factors were identified to determine farm suitability: vegetation, fauna and soil conservation, present land use, agricultural potential, tourism potential, education, settlement density and location. These were prioritised using the Analytical Hierarchy Process according to their impact on the main roles of the biosphere reserve.Each farm was given a factor score according to the expression of that factor on that farm. Overall farm suitability was taken as the sum of the weighted factor scores. The final scores for each farm were grouped into suitability classes and these were mapped. This map was then used to make recommendations on which farms should be considered for inclusion in the reserve. This method of assessing farm suitability for inclusion in a biosphere reserve, involving scoring the factors determining suitability and prioritising these factors was evaluated with respect-to its efficiency in identifying suitable properties. This was achieved by comparing the results of the assessment with the suitability class of farms with known suitability. The conceptual approach to the assessment was reviewed against published guidelines for integrated regional planning and rational resource planning. The accuracy of the project method in correctly identifying suitable farms was assessed against two other simplified methods of assessment, involving no weighting between factors, and a limited number of factors. Based on these analyses, conclusions have been drawn as to the strengths and weaknesses of both the method of farm assessment and the method of evaluation itself Recommendations were made for further research into and development of methods of assessing farm suitability for biosphere reserves. A procedure for the establishment of the proposed Itala Biosphere Reserve was suggested.