Staff, students and representatives of the eThekwini Municipality who are part of the Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP) gathered recently for their annual year-end research symposium where presenters shared key results from research underway under the auspices of the partnership.
D’RAP is a joint initiative between the eThekwini Municipality and UKZN that aims to build capacity and increase the knowledge base in key areas related to the environment in the eThekwini region.
In his speech, Municipal Councillor Nkosenhle Madlala emphasised the Municipality’s support for the partnership and noted that the eThekwini Mayor is championing climate change-related issues. He added that it is important to ensure that there is an interface between policy development and academic research; which is achieved through programmes such as D’RAP.
D’RAP has pioneered a number of projects aimed at positive environmental change. These include empowering students with knowledge on biodiversity, climate and people in an increasingly growing urban landscape. The partnership focuses on solution-oriented science to help cities improve sustainability and build resilience to threats such as climate change.
D’RAP has pioneered three notable projects: the KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld (KZNSS) Research Programme, the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project and the Global Environmental Change (GEC) Research Programme.
Dr Sean O’Donoghue from eThekwini Municipality described the three phases of the GEC programme. He noted that D’RAP is important in light of increasing global focus on the science required to make cities like Durban safer and more equitable in the face of climate change. O’Donoghue added that the close relationship between eThekwini and academia resulted in this successful partnership and that it had trained more than 50 postgraduate students.
Dr Lulu van Rooyen, a researcher in the partnership who is based at the Municipality, recounted her experience of the embedded researcher approach.
‘D’RAP is a transdisciplinary research partnership; participants, researchers and academic practitioners jointly develop research questions, approaches and solutions to the problems they investigate,’ she said.
Dr Sabine Stuart-Hill spoke on water governance, management and practices in the vital uMngeni catchment using examples from the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP) – Stuart-Hill also highlighted the importance of collaboration, co-design and co-management to preserve water systems.
Dr Rashieda Davids presented on the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) initiative, a four-year interdisciplinary research partnership driven by nine international partners that focuses on the intersection of agriculture, the environment, food systems, nutrition and health.
Student presentations covered research on insects, tropical grasses, vervet monkeys, black mambas, forest birds and forest mammals in eThekwini. UKZN students Mr Sbongiseni Xolo and Mr Manqoba Zungu received awards for their presentations on ant diversity and the composition and persistence of forest mammals respectively.
Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod