The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) through their Grasslands programme have been very supportive of the conservation and cattle management initiatives at Mabandla. Funds were made available for a team of grassland scientists to conduct an in depth survey of the biodiversity, plants and grass. A report has been produced to guide the project in best grazing practices in order to optimise grazing resources whilst maintaining the condition of the veld.
In 2006 Ezimvelo Wildlife commissioned a social and economic survey of the Mabandla community and the Umgano Project. The survey was conducted by the National Conservancy (TNC). TNC made use of household surveys and key informant interviews to assess the socio-economic impacts of the Umgano project.
Key findings were as follows
The community-based spatial zoning of the project area was simple and effective, with three clearly defined zones and basic rules for resource use in each. The limited number of zones, the clearly delineated boundaries of the zones, and the shared social norms of the community are factors that have helped avoid community conflict over local resource use.
Local chiefs had the vision to take a longer-term approach, the skills to resolve local conflicts, and the willingness to partner with people outside the community. This was critical to the project’s genesis and sustainability, and dovetails with findings by others that strong local leadership is crucial for effective local resource management.
The establishment of a Community Trust provided a financial mechanism to ensure accountability and professional management of fiduciary responsibilities and the distribution of benefits to the community. The community has received a number of grants and loans, suggesting that the creation of the Mabandla Community Trust with its legal structures and competent financial management are attractive to funders.
The Community Trust sought outside expertise for help with project financial management, nature conservation, grassland and livestock management, and tourism. Several of the project advisors have worked on the project since inception. Other studies have also noted the catalytic effect of outside expertise on a conservation initiative
The community commitment to starting the timber plantation, with 80% of the community formally supporting it, provided the assurances to those who initially funded the plantation that there was sufficient local support to ensure the project would have time to generate benefits.