South Africa is the world’s ninth largest producer of wine. Approximately 90% of South Africa’s wine production occurs within the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet richest plant kingdom on earth. The Cape Floral Kingdom is globally recognised as a biodiversity ‘hotspot’ and holds World Heritage Site status, as a home to 9,700 plant species, tens of thousands of animal species — as well as outstanding wine!
Due to the rapid loss of natural habitat through urban development, agriculture, invasive alien vegetation and frequent fires, only 8% of the original renosterveld and lowland fynbos ecosystems remain in the Western Cape. Many of these species are so specialised that they are commonly confined to one particular farm or patch of vegetation — and can be found nowhere else in the world! The climate, soil structure, plant and species diversity results in the same terroir that is responsible for the biodiversity of the Cape’s flora and therefore, the unique and phenomenal diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom is also partly responsible for the variety and unique flavours of our wine.
The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is a partnership between the South African wine industry and the conservation sector (The Botanical Society of South Africa and The Green Trust, WWF-Nedbank partnership). This initiative is focused not only on conserving the remaining critical natural habitat, but also on incorporating best biodiversity management practices into the South African wine industry.
Launched in 2004, the BWI operates on two levels: BWI members (entry level) and champions (exemplary level). Membership status requires that local producers commit to conserve remaining priority natural habitats on their farms and to implement the programme’s comprehensive biodiversity guidelines, as part of the industry’s Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) scheme, an accreditation process to ensure the ecologically sustainable production of wine.
Championship status is conferred only on exemplary producers who have made outstanding progress in the conservation or restoration of the natural habitat, wetlands and river systems on their property. They need to conserve at least 10% of the total farm size in terms of natural habitat set aside in a conservation agreement and develop a conservation management plan and demonstrate progress in implementing of this plan.
The BWI has made excellent progress with industry uptake and commitment surpassing all expectations. To date, 101 of the Cape’s wine producers have joined the Initiative and the area conserved collectively amongst all the members and champions (i.e. 63,262 ha as of November 2007) represents just over 63% of the 100,000 ha vineyard footprint in the Cape Winelands. For every 2 ha of planted vines, the Cape Winelands now has a further 1.5ha under conservation — a phenomenal achievement in just three years!
Many of the BWI members have incorporated biodiversity experiences into their visitor offerings with eco-tourism activities ranging from vineyard hiking trails, guided tours, biodiversity information centres, bird hides and the chance to see many indigenous plant and animal species now thriving on numerous wine estates. The world’s first Biodiversity Wine Route — the Green Mountain Eco-route in the Grabouw–Elgin region, was also established under the auspices of this project in 2005 and provides the opportunity for both wine enthusiasts and nature-lovers to explore and enjoy both the natural and cultural heritage of the Cape Winelands!
This project has used various business strategies to incorporate the unique biodiversity of South African winelands into a competitive advantage in the global market, providing the producer with further incentive to conserve their natural areas and farm in an environmental sensitive manner.
The first business strategy focused on integrating the biodiversity theme as a unique selling point and integral component of the South African wine industry’s marketing message, with a campaign launched in 2006 entitled: “Variety is in our nature” (1).
Furthermore, the project drives a demand for eco-friendly products by engaging with the retail sector and consumers to establish an awareness of the product. Our producers can use their conservation efforts and achievements as a competitive advantage and unique selling point in order to differentiate their products in a globally oversubscribed wine market.
The second key strategy focuses on incorporating the biodiversity theme into South African Wine Tourism through the development of biodiversity routes which tell the conservation story of each producer. The expansion of this category of wine tourism encourages producers to provide additional eco-tourism activities and product offerings, promoting BWI member farms as eco-tourism destinations to attract the eco-tourist, outdoor adventurer and general tourist to the farm over and above the traditional wine lovers, thereby providing the farm with increased revenue and diversification of product offerings to supplement their traditional income from wine sales.
Inge Kotze is Project Co-ordinator, Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI)
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