CREW Building Human Capital

12 December 2017

By CREW KZN team & Kaveesha Naicker

UKZN students montoring Merwilla plumbea poputionThe green economy initiated within the environmental economics framework, has progressively become an important paradigm in global mainstream politics. It is known to be one of three most lucrative global economies with a primary goal of creating employment by implementing environmentally friendly processes of managing biodiversity.

South Africa recently recognised the green economy in the country’s New Growth Path (2011). This framework comprises a series of strategies to build a sustainable growth economy capable to offer the jobs needed to address unemployment, mainly in managing biodiversity and ecological infrastructure. Despite South Africa’s progressive environmental legislation, it has taken time to advance skills development strategies subsequently assisting in growth of the green economy.

It is only in 2009 that a skills development regime for the environmental sector has been responsive to legislature. This has led to significant consequences evident throughout the sector; for instance matters influencing the leadership and skills development within the sector are prioritised.

Durban participants examining the various inflorescences during the Asteraceae courseSuccessively, in recognition of the need for a strategic initiative to support and diversify the sector’s human capital, South Africa’s biodiversity legislative framework made provision for the Human Capital Development Strategy for the Biodiversity Sector to be developed by SANBI and relevant partners. South Africa’s Plant Conservation Strategy was developed in response to the Global Plant Conservation Strategy in which Target 15 (Capacity Development) aims to address the shortage of plant conservation skills and improve the historical inequalities in the sector.

SANBI in partnership with the Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) created a citizen science programme, the Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW), responsible for surveying and monitoring plant species of conservation concern across the country. Apart from surveying South Africa’s indigenous flora, CREW has been building human capital and creating awareness among civil society since 2003. This has been achieved through community based projects and university interactions.

The CREW programme builds capacity through the mentoring of interns funded via SANBI, Department of Science and Technology’s National Research Fund (DST/NRF) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF-SA). CREW interns gain the opportunity to expand their botanical knowledge through the various identification courses, fieldtrips and sharpening their professional skills through various networking opportunities. They are assigned tasks to demonstrate and advance their skills during the course of their internship and are encouraged to take the initiative to develop projects to enhance their experience. Projects range from developing presentations, designing creative posters, exhibiting threatened plants at conferences, environmental education activities and championing fieldtrips to CREW data gap areas.

Apart from the inclusion of traditional knowledge and the involvement of local communities in the surveying threatened flora, CREW also organises annual visits to universities across the country to promote the valuable work conducted by the programme. During the visits, CREW in collaboration with university staff facilitate excursions with the students demonstrating the techniques applied to field surveying and the demographic monitoring of threatened plants. The students are further encouraged to join their local CREW group to become better equipped in data collection and botanical identification, thus familiarising the students with prospective occupational skills. This initiative has been successful at partnering with the following universities: University of KwaZulu-Natal; University of Zululand, Durban University of Technology; Mangosuthu University of Technology; Rhodes University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of Cape Town;  Cape Peninsula University;  University of the Western Cape; and Stellenbosch University.

During the course of 2017, CREW has made significant strides in the expansion of their university human capital development project by including University of the Witwatersrand, University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Venda, and the University of Limpopo. The students situated at the University of Venda were highly motivated by the CREW visit and have since established their own CREW group, venturing out, surveying threatened plants on behalf of the CREW programme. The success observed at the participating universities has sparked the programme’s goal to have plant surveying projects included within the curriculum at all South African universities in the future.

Enviro activityThe Human Capital Development Strategy for the biodiversity sector envisions a socially equitable, skilled workforce of professionals capable of efficiently implementing the sectors’ dynamic and advancing mandate. This is to be achieved through, attracting more South Africans into the sector; improving the quality, level and relevance of skills available; retaining and the effective deployment of skills and by creating enabling conditions for skills planning, development and evaluation.  The CREW programme is committed to increasing the capacity of individuals in the plant conservation sector through opportunities such as graduate internships, research assistants and ongoing volunteer recruitment. The opportunities provided by CREW have previously, and will continue to supplement and develop skills that are imperative in plant conservation.

 For further information visit:

Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy

National Plant Conservation Strategy: Target 15









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