The Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP), a joint initiative between the eThekwini Municipality and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, has been officially launched at a workshop held at the Durban Botanical Gardens.
The partnership aims to build capacity and increase limited knowledge in key areas related to the environment in the eThekwini Municipality region through specific research projects such as the KwaZulu-Natal Sandstone Sourveld (KZN SS) Research Programme, the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project, and the Global Environmental Change (GEC) Research Programme.
Aims of this partnership include the co-development of products that will be useful for municipal officers and researchers, including long-term data, publications, handbooks, pamphlets, and scientific and continuous development tools. It has thus far helped graduate 29 students, while 16 masters students and seven doctoral students are currently undertaking research within its programmes.
UKZN academic staff involved include Professor Rob Slotow; South African Research Chair (SARChI) representatives: Professor Colleen Downs, Professor Mathieu Rouget, Professor Paramu Mafongoya, and Professor Sarah Bracking, as well as Professor Onisimo Mutanga and more than 15 academics involved directly in student project supervision.
Research has ranged from socio-economic concerns to land use change to ecosystem functions to biodiversity and onwards. Return on investment has been positive, with science being used to inform decision-making.
An area still requiring work as the partnership advances is the integration of knowledge into practice, said Rouget. The partnership is characterised by an adaptive approach, with constant reflection on the efficacy of programme and consequent evaluation.
Municipal officials spoke about the necessity of finding biologists to work on the challenges facing the biodiversity hotspot that is eThekwini, including climate challenges and the dependence on ecosystems.
‘We acknowledge those who have taken initiative in this partnership. Research means little if you can’t translate it into action that transforms lives,’ said UKZN Vice-Chancellor, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld.
‘There’s a new paradigm of transdisciplinarity emerging, where researchers work with the community to co-create and co-implement,’ added van Jaarsveld. ‘Research is opening itself up, demonstrating the changing relationship between science and society.’
Van Jaarsveld added that D’RAP was part of UKZN developing key partnerships, and acknowledged the agreement for future contributions of the Wellcome Trust Fund to D’RAP.
eThekwini Municipality Manager of Restoration Ecology, Mr Errol Douwes, spoke about identifying local versus global drivers of change, and referred to the Durban Metropolitan Open Space System (D’MOSS) as a research arena given risks associated with open spaces providing ecosystem services. He extolled the benefits of research, from job creation to establishing a green economy and social upliftment, as well as protection of infrastructure through ecosystem restoration.
‘The way forward will be the building of partnerships and promoting green technology, using nature as a template for development,’ said Douwes.