Keynote address by the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom, at the launch of the Fynbos Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network
6 Oct 2010
Director of ceremonies, Dr Nick Allsopp
President of the National Research Foundation (NRF), Dr Albert van Jaarsveld
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Dr Tanya Abrahamse
Managing Director of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON), Mr Johan Pauw
Ladies and gentlemen
It is wonderful to be here with you tonight to launch the Fynbos Node of the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) and to share a few thoughts. This has come at just the right time because spring is in the air, and it is in spring that the Cape Floral Kingdom assumes its most majestic beauty.
Indeed, it is the extraordinary plant diversity of this region helps get South Africa ranked as the country with the fifth highest number of plant species in the world.
SAEON, as many of you are aware, is a national research programme of the National Research Foundation (NRF) that establishes innovative research platforms and information management systems for long term, multi-institutional and participatory ecosystem research, with strong regional and global linkages. These research platforms are coordinated as nodes.
The SAEON Fynbos Node we are launching tonight is the sixth node established by SAEON. The launch of this Node, is also a significant contribution in celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity. The declaration of 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Biodiversity emphasises the fact that biological resources are of fundamental importance for our very survival.
Diverse industries such as agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, construction, pulp and paper cannot do without these resources. It signals furthermore that we, as a country, need to do even more to raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity to our well-being, and to promote innovative solutions dedicated to reducing the threats that confront biodiversity on our shores and beyond.
This is particularly important considering the reality that South Africa is a country with exceptionally high biodiversity. More than 50 000 known species have been recorded within our territory, many of which are endemic. There are several declared biodiversity hotspots in Southern Africa, one of which surrounds you here in Cape Town. The Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, one of the global locations with the highest known species diversity per unit land area, lies only fifty kilometers to the southeast of us.
With most of you being members of the research community, I trust that you will recall that our 2002 national research and development strategy commits us to paying special attention to areas of science where we have a natural or geographic advantage. The identified areas of geographic advantage include the unique national laboratory of three oceans surrounding us; our southern skies with ideal conditions for astronomy research; the vast repository of fossils to support research in palaeontology, and, of course, the remarkably rich biodiversity that we are blessed with in our country.
Science and technology initiatives to protect and exploit our rich biodiversity have always been a major area of focus for the DST and will continue to remain crucial. We have made significant investments in supporting a range of biodiversity programmes, including the:
- South African Biosystematics Initiative (SABI)
- South African Biodiversity Information Facility (SABIF)
- National Public Assets (i.e. genebanks and biodiversity collections)
- BiobankSouth Africa / Wildlife Biological Research Center
- South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
As you all know, the SAEON Fynbos Node we are launching today is situated in the Fynbos Biome, one of the nine terrestrial Biomes in South Africa. This Fynbos Node is made up of two major vegetation types, namely: Fynbos and Renosterveld, but the Cape Floral Kingdom includes a number of non-fynbos biome vegetations such as the succulent Karoo, Albany Thicket and the Afromontane forest area. It is however Fynbos that dominates the Cape Floral Kingdom. The Cape Floral Kingdom the smallest of six plant kingdoms in the world is one of the richest in plant species diversity. It occupies no more than 0.5 % of the territory of the African continent, and yet it has almost 20 % of the continent’s plant species.
As a result of its unique and diverse vegetation, fynbos has offered considerable opportunities for botanists since the 18th century right to the current generation of scientists who are working to understand the complex interactions in fynbos. Modern fynbos research was given an immense boost by the National Programme for Ecosystem Research, supported by the precursor to the NRF, the Foundation for Research and Development.
The Fynbos Biome Project, as it became known ran from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. This programme led to research that allowed many Fynbos scientists to achieve world recognition. Fynbos scientists have made major contributions to research worldwide in areas of research such as in invasive plants, the special role of natural fire, and conservation biology.
Something of particular significance to a developing country such as ours is that fynbos scientists have also directly contributed to the development of one of the strongest poverty-alleviation initiatives in South Africa. With their science-based evidence that alien plants use considerably more water than natural vegetation and their point of departure that alleviating poverty could be linked to preserving water and biodiversity, fynbos researchers were foremost among those who helped bring to life the working for water programme, which has offered livelihood opportunities to tens of thousands of people, while at the same time protecting our bioversity and threatened water catchment areas.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we launch the SAEON fynbos node tonight, we do this not only because it is our mandate to establish world-class platforms to support research, but because we can see possibilities and outcomes of groundbreaking research emerging out of this node that will help us manage and exploit our huge biodiversity heritage.
South Africa is entering an exciting period for the scientific community, particularly for environmental scientists. One of the first tasks of the recently appointed national planning commission is the development of a common vision for our future (Vision 2025). A cursory look at the work programme of the NPC shows a strong focus on environmental limits as well as opportunities for supporting our long-term goals of enhancing the quality of life of all South Africans. The NPC includes experts with an understanding of these issues but there is clearly a role for the significant capacity and expertise that reside in this venue tonight.
As part of our ten-year innovation plan, we identified a set of priority areas of research. One of these areas is referred to as the Global Change Grand Challenge. This focus, we believe, will place South Africa in a position to contribute meaningfully to the climate change science debate.
The SAEON Fynbos Node will provide an ideal platform to ensure long term monitoring of the impacts of climate change and human activity on the Fynbos Biome. It will also support data collection that helps scientists both to untangle the impacts of human induced global change on fynbos and also to understand these so as to help come up with informed policies and management plans that we can use to reduce the negative impacts on our natural resources and biodiversity.
The Fynbos Biome with its extremely high plant species richness and high levels of endemism is an unparalleled system on a global scale and, hence, long-term environmental observation made possible by the SAEON Fynbos Node will assist in understanding the threats and opportunities resulting from global change.
The scale and nature of work SAEON is championing today is the kind of work that no organisation can achieve successfully by working alone. We are encouraged by the mutually beneficial partnership struck by the SAEON and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). This is a partnership that has earned the SAEON Fynbos Node an ideal institutional home where it is being hosted by SANBI at the Kirstenbosch facility.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that only in pooling our resources, and by leveraging each other’s expertise and diverse specialties will we achieve the desired research outputs that will benefit the people of South Africa, and contribute meaningfully to global knowledge. On this note, I would like to thank you for having made time to be part of this important history we are making tonight as we officially launch the SAEON Fynbos Node.
Source: Department of Science and Technology
Issued by: Department of Science and Technology
6 Oct 2010
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