The fourth annual Fountainhill Estate (FHE) Research Symposium at the estate near Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal focused on the theme of taking research into operational implementation and featured almost 30 presentations that included a number on work undertaken by UKZN staff and students on the estate.
The two-day symposium, co-hosted by the uMngeni Environmental Infrastructure Partnership, provided a platform for the presentation of environmental and agricultural research underway at the FHE and in the uMngeni Catchment. The programme encompassed formal academic research, observational studies and surveys as well as citizen science. The event served as a multi-disciplinary milieu that provided opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and research findings.
Close to 50 delegates attended from academia, civil society, local government, neighbouring farms and estates, environmental agencies and more. The organisers plan to synthesise the contributions to inform further research, promote inter- and intra-disciplinary co-operation and promote and operationalise implementable findings in the broader community.
Mr Dhesigen Naidoo, CEO of the Water Research Commission (WRC), delivered the keynote address on the first day on the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus.
He congratulated the organisers, including the academic partners, for a “demonstration of what is possible”.
Naidoo praised the FHE for its investment in conservation and remarked on UKZN’s leadership in the realm of the WEF nexus. He encouraged the adoption of best practice from and contribution to best practice around the globe, encouraging South African researchers not to remain isolated, and provided snapshots of the WEF sectoral status in Africa, from challenges to responses and innovation. He also noted the need to remain optimistic, saying ‘We need to adjust our outlook, because if we don’t, we will fail to recognise the toolboxes that are already available to us to rapidly transform the world.’
Dr Jim Taylor, Honorary Research Fellow at UKZN, delivered the keynote address on the second day, on research informing pathways to sustainability. He described the strategies required to overcome the disconnect between how the world is managed and the social change that is needed, focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals, research, leadership, citizen science, and more.
The presentations covered a wide range of topics, including water quantity and quality monitoring; soil mapping and land use planning; soil erosion investigations; flood forecasting and early warning systems; biodiversity stewardship; adaptive rangeland management; raptor observations; agroforestry; mainstreaming of indigenous crops; wetland rehabilitation; distribution of alien invasive species; and precision agriculture.
Board member Dr Roy Mottram chaired the programme and closed the event by thanking the Taeuber Management Trust (TMT), board member Professor Albert Modi and the rest of the board for their efforts in bringing researchers together at the FHE. He noted the importance of farmers attending such events to inform researchers of the problems they face, and highlighted that the FHE creates a community environment for complementary research like that presented.
Dr Sandi Willows-Munro from the School of Life Sciences received the award for best presentation for her contribution on metabarcoding, comprising DNA barcoding and sequencing, and how this will enable rapid biodiversity assessment.
‘We are pleased with how this symposium has developed and grown in stature, and we have enjoyed the integration between disciplines,’ said Mr Konrad Taeuber of the TMT.
Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod