Sissie Matela - Director of Environmental and Rural Solutions

Sissie Matela is the Director of Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS), a non-profit company she co-founded with Nicky McLeod in 2002 in the rural Eastern Cape town of Matatiele. For over two decades, Sissie and the ERS team have been dedicated to creating green jobs and enhancing opportunities for sustainable self-employment, particularly for local youth. Their efforts primarily focus on landscape restoration for livelihoods through livestock farming, the main source of income in the area, and guiding the implementation of agroecology in smallholder farming to build climate-resilient communities.


Sissie holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the National University of Lesotho and a master’s degree in agronomy and soil science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Her extensive career includes roles as a pedologist, rural development facilitator, researcher, and university lecturer. She has collaborated with communal livestock farming communities and traditional leaders along the Drakensberg Mountains in both South Africa and Lesotho, integrating traditional water catchment, land, and livestock management techniques with research-based methods.


Recognized as the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Hotspot Hero by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Sissie’s work with communal livestock farming communities has been instrumental in integrating traditional cultural conservation practices to generate income for livestock farmers. Sissie enjoys interpreting stories of environmental change as told by community elders, blending local knowledge with scientific approaches to develop solutions that respect tradition while applying science to community production systems.

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