New Vision for SARChI Chair in Land Use Planning and Management

New Vision for SARChI Chair in Land Use Planning and Management

The National Research Foundation (NRF) has appointed UKZN’s Professor Onisimo Mutanga as the South African Research Chair in Land Use Planning and Management.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), established in 2006 by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the NRF, is designed to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities.

The work of this Chair focuses on protection and enhancement of environmental assets and natural resources through studying trends in land-use/cover patterns as well as productivity of natural systems over a large spatial extent.

Mutanga has been part of the Discipline of Geography in the School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) since 2005, and served as Acting Dean and Head of SAEES. In 2017, Mutanga was named among the best scientific contributors in Africa. He holds an NRF B-rating, has more than 120 publications to his name, and has supervised more than 16 PhD and 28 master’s students.

Mutanga is an expert in ecosystem pattern and condition analysis in the face of global and land-use change using remote sensing. He integrates ecology, biodiversity conservation and remote sensing to model the impact of anthropogenic and physical factors on the environment.

Mutanga’s research has included the development of innovative remote sensing approaches for providing timely and up to date information for improved proactive intervention measures in managing resources. His research focus has grown towards the automation and operationalisation of remotely sensed data in forestry, agriculture and rangeland monitoring.

In his new role, Mutanga will draw on expertise from various disciplines and institutions. His work will prioritise enhancing synergy between academia, government, councils and the private sector so that research produced is useful for decision-making.

He explained that, in the context of the rapid degradation of ecosystem services due to climate change resulting in significant ecological, social and economic consequences and obstruction of sustainable developments, the work of the Chair was increasingly important. Using a systems-based approach and employing a wide range of analytical approaches, the research will provide an evidence-based systematic assessment of land potential, with an appraisal of alternatives in the face of global change.

‘The ultimate goal is to develop integrated land-use planning approaches for sustainable utilisation of resources in order to strike a balance between conservation and societal benefit at various spatial scales,’ said Mutanga.

His work will contribute to a better understanding of ecosystem services, threats and resilience of natural systems and ecological thresholds, and ensure viable and alternative land use planning and management approaches. He will also investigate economic, social and environmental benefits of restoration activities and hopes this research will contribute to implementation of natural resources management informed by high quality science.

The research within this Chair is an extension of the national global change grand challenge on developing technologies and innovations to respond to global changes as well as strengthening the science-policy-practice interface.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod