The University of Venda (UNIVEN) and Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (VBR) last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) believed to be of great value to both institutions, local, national, and international communities.
The sixth South African Biosphere Reserve and the third in Limpopo Province, the VBR aims to conserve the area’s uniquely bio-diverse environment, while simultaneously supporting and promoting much needed sustainable development.
VBR’s board chairperson, Dr Lutendo Mugwedi and the UNIVEN’s deputy vice-chancellor academic, Professor Jan Crafford signed the MOU on behalf of their organisations. Also in attendance of the signing ceremony were representatives from Thulamela municipality, Thohoyandou Botanical Garden and members of senior management as well as some staff members of the university.
Mugwedi said apart from conserving the bio-diversity in the area, the collaboration also seeks to bridge the science-management divide. This will be achieved through engaged scholarship, which will be informed by co-creation and co-production of knowledge, added Mugwedi.
He also highlighted some of the expected outcomes of the partnership which include providing cutting-edge conservation and sustainable development solutions, knowledge, and socio-economic benefits. Mugwedi added that there will be projects that will be started as a direct spin-off of the initiative.
Some of these projects are: human-elephant conflict management using chillies. Tshumisano Women’s group (Bende Mutale) is responsible for planting chillies for conflict management and sale. United Nations Development programme and Global Environment Finance fund the project.
Another project is climate risk and adaptive capacity building in South Africa’s Biosphere reserves, which focuses on sustainable water and ecosystems management. It is led by the UNESCO’s Office in Harare and is funded by government of Flanders.
Assessment of governance models implemented in Biosphere Reserves is another project that came about as a result of the partnership. This entails a move towards sustainable social and ecological systems and it is funded by the National Research Foundation.
Speaking at the event Crafford said the collaboration is the culmination of a journey dating back to the 1990s. He said VBR was proclaimed a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2009. Four years later the university was awarded the NRF Research Chair in Biodiversity Value and Change. Crafford said the status of Biosphere is all about stakeholder engagement and that he hopes that the status of the Vhembe Biosphere will be extended for another ten years. He added that UNIVEN must be an anchor institution not only in Vhembe region but nationwide. The research function of the VBR is managed by the research chair in bio-diversity value and change by Professor Stefan Foord, who is the interim chair.
In his welcome address, the deputy vice-chancellor of corporate services, Dr Robert Martin expressed his excitement and that of the entire UNIVEN community about the signing of the MoU. He said the University is looking forward to strengthening the relationship between the two institutions. He further indicated that this is the second MoU that the University has signed since the implementation of the new Strategic Plan 2021-2025.
The UNIVEN registrar, advocate Edward Lambani thanked everyone for making it to the event, saying the whole Biosphere has put UNIVEN and Vhembe region on the international map. He urged all the relevant parties to ensure that the MoU should be implemented and not gather dust.