PRESENCE Learning Village, South Africa

PRESENCE Learning Village, South Africa

Introduction to the project:

The Learning Village serves as a hub for Working for Water/Woodlands/Wetlands teams and visiting national and international researchers with an interest in landscape restoration and ecosystem management.

The shared vision of the PRESENCE network is to ensure:

  • Rigorous transdisciplinary research to address critical knowledge into restoration strategies;
  • Best Management Practices (BMP) for natural resource and ecosystem management
  • Stakeholder-driven participatory approaches
  • Socio-economically acceptable in supporting local livelihoods and cultural traditions
  • Ecologically sound by maximising ecosystem integrity and biodiversity outcomes
  • Financially sustainable through innovative reward mechanisms for ecosystem management
  • Institutionally feasible through good governance, community-based learning & social change
  • Local capacity building through the mainstreaming of restoration processes.

This PRESENCE approach is currently being piloted in the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve through the collaborative research-implementation programme: PRESENCE in the Baviaanskloof. The overall objective of the ongoing programme of work is to:

Guide the social-ecological restoration of ‘living landscapes’ across the
Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve.

This Baviaanskloof initiative is a joint partnership primarily funded through the Dutch Government’s Water for Food & Ecosystems Programme with contributions from Wageningen University’s Ecosystem & Landscape Services Programme (SELS),  South African Government’s Department of Water Affairs (Working for Water) and Gamtoos Irrigation Board.

PRESENCE stands for:

Participatory Restoration of Ecosystem SErvices & Natural Capital, Eastern Cape.

Vision: Restoration of Living Landscapes. ‘Mainstreaming’ restoration as a viable multi-functional land-use across diverse sectors of society.

Mission: “Growing plants, Growing People”

The key elements being designed for the Learning Village are: cultural botanical gardens; indigenous horticultural nursery; education/training facilities; student research accommodation; & small-scale sustainable tourist infrastructure.



Kouga Dam (within the Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve), Eastern Cape, South Africa


Why is the Learning Village Project important?

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) highlighted the fact that the transformation of ecosystems through human activity not only compromises biodiversity and ecological integrity, but ultimately affects the well-being of people who directly and indirectly depend on the benefits derived from socio-ecological systems (i.e. ecosystem services). The implications of such a scenario are clearly apparent in South Africa where impaired ecosystem functioning is eroding natural capital and the prospect of achieving sustainable livelihoods and regional socio-economic prosperity over the long-term.

In response, the South African Government and institutional partners are developing national programmes – such as Working for Water/Woodlands/Wetlands – to investigate options for restoring the region’s valuable and globally significant biomes and landscapes to meet both socio-economic needs and ecological objectives. The Netherlands (through the formerly LNV and OS) has joined this response by investing in various projects in the field of sustainable food production and research and implementation of water for food and ecosystem.

A ‘living landscape’ has a variety of healthy eco-systems and land-uses and is home to ecological, agricultural and social systems which are managed so that they function sustainably. This ensures that natural and cultural resources are available for future generations. We believe that living landscape will contribute to adaptation and mitigation of climate change, to food and water security and sustainable livelihoods.


Projects on the ground:

This initiative aims to establish an integrated ‘Learning Village’ to support regional ecosystem restoration, biodiversity conservation, environmental education, job creation and general livelihood improvement through activities which seek to empower at an individual and community level. The Learning Village is being designed around four core themes:

1. Restoration

2. Cultivation

3. Education

4. Empowerment


Want to get involved?

Visit the Presence Learning Village website


Earth Collective



Living Lands (PRESENCE Facilitators):

Dieter van den Broeck:


Julia Glenday:

Odirilwe Selomane: