South Africa ranks third in the world in terms of its biological diversity. It also has the highest known concentration of threatened plants, and the highest extinction estimates anywhere in the world (Wynberg 2002). The Cape Floral Region (CFR), with its spectacular coastal and mountain fynbos and other botanical treasures, attracts millions of visitors each year. It is a global biodiversity hotspot, because of exceptional natural diversity on the one hand and dangerously high levels of habitat destruction on the other. Major threats include loss of habitat to agriculture, rapid and insensitive development, indiscriminate burning, overextraction of water and the spread of alien species. At least 70 per cent of the 9 600 plant species in the CFR are found nowhere else on earth - conserving this diversity is essential not merely for its aesthetic beauty but also for its economic contribution. A recent natural resource economics study estimated the total economic value of the CFR as at least R10 billion per year, equivalent to over 10% of the regional Gross Geographic Product for the Western Cape (Ashwell et al.
As elsewhere in South Africa, the region reflects the apartheid legacy of enormous disparities in access to land and resources, and a highly skewed distribution of population and wealth. The land that makes up the CFR is mostly agricultural land, owned predominantly by white people. Interspersed in this landscape are scattered rural communities of mostly coloured people. In addition, a significant number of farm dwellers live on commercial farms, in insecure circumstances on land that does not belong to them (Hall 2004). These communities have been hard hit in recent years by a declining agricultural economy, associated job losses and evictions (CRLS 2003). Unemployment runs high, and many people live below the poverty line.
In a bid to tackle both challenges, the government has initiated an ambitious long-term programme - known as Cape Action for People and the Environment (C.A.P.E.) - to protect the CFR in a manner that recognises and addresses the livelihood needs of poor communities in the area. Fundamental to its approach is a commitment to ensure that biodiversity conservation is mainstreamed into local economic development and poverty reduction efforts.