In the South African town of Groot Marico, where nearly half of the 5,000 residents are unemployed, a community group is bringing jobs to the area through ecotourism.
The Marico River Conservation Association (MRCA) employs 350 people in a variety of jobs focused on conserving the local environment. Employees have constructed walking trails and cleared invasive vegetation, much of which is meant to prepare for ecotourism. One of the employees, Abel Mogapi, is also studying local trees, bird species, and game so that he can serve as a tourism guide.
Finding an environmentally sustainable way to stimulate the town’s economy is crucial. Groot Marico is part of the Limpopo River Basin, a transnational watershed in Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Water scarcity is increasingly becoming a threat in the basin, and the region is struggling to reconcile current economic growth with the need to conserve clean water sources and other resources for the future.
As a result of this tension, many rural communities in Southern Africa are feeling pressure to relax regulations around water pollution to expand economic opportunities and jobs in sectors like mining. Although these jobs might bring short-term relief, they also deplete natural resources and damage long-term water security. Groot Marico is no stranger to this dilemma. But the community understands the importance of maintaining the Marico River as a source of clean water — not only for Groot Marico, but also for the long-term security of other towns in neighboring countries that flank the river.
Groups like MRCA see ecotourism as a solution that would protect the river by providing environmentally sustainable employment opportunities. However, to make it a viable alternative to mining, local communities have to be assured that the ecotourism industry is financially lucrative.
There is already a small but growing tourism industry in the area, and with increased protection for conservation through efforts like those of MRCA, land owners will be more likely to invest in ecotourism facilities and activities — which will in turn create more job opportunities.