So what do we mean when we talk about sustainability? Better still just what have we done towards achieving our sustainable goals? So this is our sustainability story.
Responsible tourism is the lifeblood of Antbear Lodge and is the basis of just about everything we do. We have realized our dream of a self-sufficient lifestyle which has resulted in the development of Antbear Lodge which has very much become our love.
It all started some 20 years ago where we left our corporate lifestyle in Germany and started our attempt to live differently. The first step resulted in the construction of a straw bale building, an alternative building method that uses local resources with low impact on the world. Even the thatch for the roof was cut on the farm and the main costs of this construction type are labour keeping our money in the local economy. Since then we have built from sun-dried bricks, rammed earth, cob and locally sourced stone from the farm. From there we have moved to creating a reed bed filter to clean grey water before returning it to the environment. And slowly our vision at Antbear Lodge has developed into our concept of responsible tourism that includes fair wages and working conditions, fair distribution of benefits, ethical business practice, and respect for human rights, culture and the environment.
We have our own chickens for eggs, cows for milk and an organic vegetable garden. We bake our own artisanal bread and even make our own yoghurt and cheese. We are strong believers in permaculture, have developed an earthworm farm and compost with a minimum waste policy and what we do produce as waste we try our utmost to recycle. Polystyrene is our last issue for which we have not found a recycle solution yet. We are also a haven for rescued animals and have taken on abused donkeys, horses, pigs and more. Few of these animals will ever be work animals and we are basically just offering them a loving environment to retire in.
We make an effort in conservation too and take our responsibility as stewards looking after this farm seriously. We try to remove alien invader species like wattle, hawthorn and american bramble. We keep poaching to a minimum and that is mostly due to our relationship with our community. Our latest project in partnership with a neighbour farm is establishing a vulture restaurant together with a vulture hide. The hope is that the vulture hide will be taken on by tourists wanting to photograph vultures and the funding can be put back into new vulture conservation efforts.
Along the way, we have had our failures too. We started a program supporting a local school which worked well in the beginning but after too much money became available for the school so to did the abuse of that money begin. In fact, lessons took a secondary role while the kids would sing for tourists at every opportunity and the teachers cashed in. We redeveloped the program by creating an NGO and letting the NGO manage the money working with a different school and no longer interrupt schooling with tourism. In short, there have been lots of lessons.
Skills development is important and we have put in our biggest effort here. Antbear Drakensberg Lodge employs people from the local area. Most have little previous work experience or formal training. We provide continues training and skills development with workshops and practical training. Not only hospitality training and what is required to run our lodge but skills like woodworking, refrigeration, electricity, plumbing, alternative building, up-cycling, permaculture and so much more. It’s inspiring to see how these skills are slowly being introduced in the local community and our very alternative way of seeing things is becoming a new normal. We also operate a volunteer program where we take on people for shortish periods in an exchange of labour for accommodation and meals. We mostly teach woodworking and alternative construction but we have also done natural horsemanship.
Our latest program is to attempt to uplift the local economy by developing entrepreneurial opportunities for people from our local communities. We are using our already established customer base as a market source The first programme is up and running with a local villager who has built a star gazing hammock camp where he tells the folktales his grandmother told as a child about the night skies. Its become a loved attraction by tourists and is a real authentic experience. Yes, we did pay for the development costs but Mlendeni contributed his own labour to build it. The idea is that Mlendeni is responsible for running his own business. Already we can see that a lot of business mentorship interventions are needed and are now starting to work on that. This has resulted in the partnership with an NGO called Indalo Inclusive who support developing rural development in the micro-business sector that has a green and inclusive basis. I am sure this is a long term program as we are working with general education levels that are unimaginably minimal.
This Covid19 crisis has created a huge stall of our efforts. Our own tourism business is struggling to operate in this environment but till now we have not retrenched any staff and that is one of our Covid survival goals. It has only been through this crisis that we have come to understand exactly just how many peoples livelihoods we are responsible for. It’s not just our staff. It’s their families and extended families, it’s the local circular economy and the crisis has had a crippling effect on our local community. Unemployment was bad before the crisis and now its now 10 times worse. We implemented some food drops of maize meal and we need to see what the future will hold. Already we have noticed a dependence on the food parcels and realised that this needs to change. What we now need to do is to get everyone to start to implement the self-sustaining practices of growing their own food so that they like us can be so much more resilient against this crisis. We just have not got the resources to do this at any kind of scale yet so are concentrating on home gardens of our own staff.
If you would like to contribute to our social cause please follow this link. https://antbear.co.za/socialresponsibility/
Sustainability is a journey and it does not have an end. We can all do more and we should all do more and if you asked me to write about this in a years time I will talk about new projects and new ideas of where we can practically make a difference. And on top of everything sustainability practices make sound business sense which is why we don’t understand why people consider our lifestyle to be so different