Spekboom is native to the Eastern Cape. It grows particularly in the Addo area but it once covered hundreds of thousands of hectares. Now the humble tree is being replanted hectares at a time because of its ability to capture carbon dioxide, restore natural ecosystems and alleviate poverty a programme that includes job creation.
From government restoration programmes to schoolyard educational projects, spekboom has become a symbol for carbon dioxide emission reduction and climate change awareness. The plant manages to store more than four tons of carbon per hectare, creating what is known as a carbon sink in large plantations. In other words, 10 hectares of spekboom is equivalent to taking 26 cars off the road for a year. This ability to mop up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions allows South African farmers to tap into carbon trading markets worth tens of billions of dollars.
South Africa can generate carbon credits, as the carbon market allows businesses to trade and sell carbon allowances to attain compliance with their emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The ECPTA (Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency) announced that its income had surged by 300% within nine months of having started the implementation of a spekboom rehabilitation strategy in the province’s reserves.
Spekboom has been relocated for this project in the eastern Baviaanskloof, in the Cambria Region at Goedehoop, Rooihoek, and in the western kloofs of the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve. These projects are essentially building a business model for thicket rehabilitation and carbon farming as an alternative land use in Eastern Cape. Also known as igwanishe, olifantskos or by its latin name, Porticularia afra, spekboom has other beneficial qualities. It improves soil quality, reduces erosion and stimulates a return of biodiversity in the area because of its soil-binding and shading nature. The replanting of spekboom is labour-intensive and creates tens of thousands of jobs and a new source of income for rural communities. Spekboom’s unique ability is that it is able to switch its photosynthetic mechanism from that of a rainforest plant in wet conditions to that of a desert cactus in semi-arid conditions, making it highly efficient for its environment. At 2.5m high, it can survive on 250-350mm of rain per year.