A Spek-tacular tree!

A Spek-tacular tree!

It seems everyone is talking about a miracle tree growing on the rocky slopes of the Addo Elephant National Park. The tree, being replanted in hectares in and around the Eastern Cape, is capable of some impressive natural feats, including capturing around four tons of carbon each year per hectare. That’s the equivalent of removing the carbon emission of 26 cars from the road. The carbon-absorbing talents of the tree will not only result in a massive reduction in greenhouse gasses, resulting in an effective dent in climate change, but it could also present a significant profit for South Africa on the international carbon trading market. The plant responsible is the small-leaved succulent Portulacaria afra, or the humble Spekboom.

Otherwise known as Elephant’s Food Spekboom owes its desert-defying fame to its ability to switch from being a succulent that stores water, through the very hot and dry periods experienced in the semi-desert areas of Addo, to relying on photosynthesis like a normal tree. Previously overgrazed by livestock, Spekboom has undergone a massive restoration in the Eastern Cape, particularly in Addo, thanks to the R3G project, or the Restoration Research Group. To date, over 400 hectares of Spekboom thicket have been restored at the Addo Elephant park, along with areas in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve (a World Heritage Site), and the Great Fish River Reserve.

Addo has a history of taking great strides in conservation, founded in the 1930s to protect the then dwindling population (of just 11) elephants, decimated by the presence of farmers and hunters in the early 20th century. Spekboom enclosures in the reserve allow guests to leave their cars and walk through the dense thicket, experiencing the bush from the perspective of the animals that graze there. Addo is currently involved in a number of conservation, outreach and public works programs and, aside from environmental benefits, Spekboom restoration presents economic opportunities for South Africa through Carbon Trading opportunities.

Initiated in 2005 as part of the Kyoto Protocol, Carbon Trading or Emissions Trading allows companies who pollute to buy or sell carbon ‘allowances’. Essentially, carbon trading allows industrial countries to meet Kyoto reduction obligations (reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5% below their levels in 1990) by encouraging green projects in developing countries. Africa’s participation in Clean Development Mechanism projects has lagged, but projects like R3G or the Spekboom Carbon Alleviation Project, which aims to green urban areas and alleviate poverty as well as capitalising on the carbon-absorbing effects of the tree to reduce the impact of global warming, could present an opportunity for South Africa to participate in the reduction of global warming, leading the rest of Africa by way of example.