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Keywords:

  • advocacy;
  • systematics;
  • taxonomy

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

South Africa, as a megadiverse country (±21 700 vascular plants, 4800 vertebrates and 68 900 invertebrates described), is presently engaged with an extended, modified Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The country is fortunate in having a strong tradition of systematics research and, inter alia, houses several million preserved plant specimens (±1 million databased and georeferenced), allowing taxonomists and conservationists to track both the occurrence and distribution of indigenous and naturalized plant species. These rich local resources have been extensively drawn upon to deliver, with varying degrees of success, the 16 outcome-oriented GSPC 2010 Targets. The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA, 2004), the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and the National Biodiversity Framework (NBF) have provided a robust legislative, enabling and policy framework for making operational and advancing GSPC-related efforts. However, within an emerging economy, the conservation of biodiversity has competed for government resources with housing, sanitation, primary education, basic health care and crime prevention, delivery of which translates to the currency of politicians: votes. A key challenge identified by local (and global) biodiversity scientists for the current GSPC phase is broad-scale advocacy, communicating the changing state of nature, and the inter-relatedness of biodiversity and human well-being. The nature of meeting this challenge is explored. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 166, 301–309.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

Seymour & Desmet (2009) clearly identified two challenges facing institutions such as the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). The first is the conveying of information from researchers to government, linked to its subsequent translation into policy. The second is to convince government that continued research support will yield long-term societal benefits for South Africa. We consider how this local science–policy interface can and should be influenced in respect of plant conservation, with special reference to Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). First, it is necessary to present the context of the broader South African scene: biodiversity, research resources, the legislative, enabling and policy environment, socio-economic realities and the historical engagement of this nation with the GSPC.

South Africa is fortunate in having a strong tradition of biodiversity research and, inter alia, houses several million preserved plant specimens in over 60 herbaria. The most important of these include the three herbaria [National (PRE, Pretoria), Compton (NBG, Cape Town) and KwaZulu-Natal (NH, Durban)] of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which collectively keep and curate more than 2 million of the ±4.2 million specimens in the country (Smith & Willis, 1999). Of these, over 1 million have been databased and georeferenced using the Pretoria, National Herbarium (PRE) Computerized Information System (PRECIS). In the collections, as well as in the PRECIS database, taxonomists in SANBI have been recording the occurrence and distribution of indigenous and naturalized plant species. Several million zoological specimens are held in South African natural history museums and, together with the plant collections, these represent a remarkably rich resource that informs a multitude of endeavours in the biological, agricultural and health sciences and beyond. The critical importance of Target 1 of the GSPC (a widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world flora) in underpinning the implementation of all other GSPC Targets has been articulated eloquently in two recent papers (Paton et al., 2008; Paton, 2009) and, accordingly, will not be fully expounded here.

THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

The wealth and uniqueness of South African biodiversity is globally well known. It includes the richest temperate flora with 19 581 indigenous plant species from 2267 genera and 349 families of vascular plants (Germishuizen et al., 2006; Steenkamp & Smith, 2006), eight biomes (Low & Rebelo, 1996) and 435 vegetation types (Mucina & Rutherford, 2006). The origin in geological time of the wide range of veld types (Acocks, 1988) and vegetation types and their respective floristic compositions was been reviewed by Raven (1983); the processes involved are ongoing and our present situation represents but a brief moment in time. South Africa houses within its borders three hotspots of biodiversity: the Cape Floristic Region, the Succulent Karoo and the Maputaland–Pondoland–Albany hotspot (Mittermeier et al., 2005). Approximately 65% of the vascular plant species are endemic to South Africa (Raimondo et al., 2009), with many occurring in its three regions and 15 centres of plant endemism (Van Wyk & Smith, 2001). With this exceptional diversity comes significant conservation responsibility to use and manage it wisely for the benefit for current and future generations.

South Africa is relatively large (with a surface area of 1 223 226 km2) and has a rich and diverse natural resource base (both abiotic and biotic). The general topography comprises a coastal belt (approximately 3000 km long) bordered by a more or less continuous range of mountains on the edge of a vast interior plateau with an average elevation of 1200 m. The location, ocean currents and topography of South Africa and some of its neighbours could account for the fact that they are climatologically least typical of all African countries. As a result of these factors, among others, southern Africa is characterized by a variety of major climatic, topographical, geological and pedological transition zones, which create a wide variety of habitats for organismal colonization, often over short distances. Consequently, the subcontinent boasts a flora that is very high in terms of species/area ratios (0.0081 species/km2 overall). Even when the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is known to be extremely rich in species and endemic taxa (Dahlgren & Van Wyk, 1988), is excluded from the calculation, the figure for the rest of the southern African flora (0.0061) still compares favourably with that of the humid tropics (0.0044 for Brazil) (Gibbs Russell, 1985, 1987; Cowling et al., 1992: table 4.5). This exceptional southern African bio-wealth has been known internationally since the early 17th century, and is protected in part by a formal protected-areas network (Greyling & Huntley, 1984). However, sites contributing to conservation and sustainable development fall within three categories: the formal statutory protected areas; the less formal protected areas, such as mountain catchment areas and state forests; and areas used for informal landowner activities such as game farms and private conservancies. Whereas the least formal of these three categories is increasingly recognized at a global level for its significant contribution, appropriate policies and instruments are still required to provide incentives and otherwise support such efforts in South Africa (Pasquini et al., 2009). This will hopefully improve, as the state has recognized that the current formal protected areas network is insufficient to provide comprehensive ecological services and socio-economic benefits that include climate change mitigation and adaptation.

SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

The South African government became a signatory of, and Party to, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD or Rio Convention) on 2 November 1995. One of the most important developments in the environmental legislative landscape that has taken place in South Africa since then has been the transformation of the National Botanical Institute (NBI) into the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), through promulgation of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA, 2004). Chapter 2 of this Act established an Institute (SANBI) with a mandate much broader than that of the botanically focused NBI: SANBI has broader responsibilities relating to the full diversity of the fauna and flora of the country, in fact, biodiversity in its broadest definition, while maintaining the national network of nine National Botanical Gardens and the taxonomic, conservation and ecological research programmes and the management of three herbaria. NEMBA also reinforced a conservation prerogative for the biodiversity of the country and established a ministerial monitoring and reporting obligation on its status. Accordingly, a further part of the broad SANBI mandate includes reporting on the status and dynamics of South African biodiversity, providing science-based policy support and advice and facilitating cooperative programmes between individuals, organizations and government departments. Such catalytic actions facilitate efficiencies in research and knowledge management and access, in the implementation of management best practice and in advising the three tiers of government (national, provincial, local) in areas that require specialist input. NEMBA, with the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) and National Biodiversity Framework (NBF), provides a robust legislative, enabling and policy framework for efforts that aim to ensure the wise use and conservation of the rich and unique biodiversity. Even bioprospecting legislation is in place, which attempts to ensure that the country as a whole, including traditional knowledge (TK)-holding communities and bioresource providers, benefit equitably from the commercial and other gains derived from local bioresource beneficiation (Crouch et al., 2008).

With specific reference to the environment, the South African government, through its national Department of Environmental Affairs, has recently identified the following strategic priorities (DEAT, 2010):

  • • 
    promote the conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources;
  • • 
    protect and enhance the quality and safety of the environment;
  • • 
    facilitate an effective national mitigation and adaptation response to climate change;
  • • 
    promote a global sustainable development agenda;
  • • 
    facilitate transformation and job creation within the biodiversity sector towards poverty eradication;
  • • 
    create conditions for sustainable tourism growth and development.

Although the above priorities align well with the main objective of the GSPC, the Minister of Environmental Affairs has acknowledged the ‘deteriorating condition of the South African environment’ (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2010a).

SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) was developed through extensive international collaboration and consultation, adopted unanimously and approved in Decision VI/9 of the 6th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held in The Hague on 19 April 2002 (UNEP, 2002). Simply stated, the ultimate and long-term objective of the Strategy is to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity. To achieve this and its secondary goals, the Strategy was divided into 16 outcome-orientated Targets intended for completion by the year 2010 (Table 1). Importantly, 2010 was used as the date to integrate and harmonize the Strategy with the Strategic Plan of the CBD. Of the 16 Targets, four were regarded as cross-cutting Targets to be considered in relation to the achievement of each other Target. The cross-cutting Targets in the GSPC were Targets 3 (conservation protocols and/or techniques), 14 (communication, education and public awareness), 15 (training/capacity building) and 16 (conservation networks). This was the first time that such largely unambiguous, delivery-driven targets were adopted under the CBD. The Strategy addressed the plant kingdom, with a focus on higher plants and other well-described groups such as bryophytes and pteridophytes. However, Parties could choose on a national basis to include other taxa, an option adopted by South Africa. The GSPC provided a framework to facilitate harmony between existing initiatives aimed at plant conservation, to identify gaps where new initiatives were required and to promote mobilization of the necessary resources.

Table 1.  The topics and Targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation were structured under five main sub-objectives
 Sub-objectives of the GSPCTargets
1Understanding and documenting plant diversity1–3
2Conserving plant diversity4–10
3Using plant diversity sustainably11–13
4Promoting education and awareness about plant diversity14
5Building capacity for the conservation of plant diversity15 and 16

For South Africa, it was comparatively easy to commit to the Targets set under the sub-objectives of the GSPC, as several were progressed long before its advent. These were partly reflected in the mid-term GSPC status report for South Africa (Willis, 2006). A strong in-country tradition of biodiversity research allowed for notable progress to have been achieved by 2010 with respect to, among others, the first main sub-objective, ‘understanding and documenting plant diversity’ (Targets 1–3). This sub-objective, particularly as far as the Targets relating to plant taxonomy and Red Listing thrusts were concerned, is a case in point, and at a national level addressed the imperative to produce a checklist of plant taxa as a first step towards a flora. Since the mid-1980s, the component of the PRECIS database that holds information on families, genera and species has enabled the compilation of successive approximations of a South African plant checklist (Gibbs Russell et al., 1984; 1985; 1987; Arnold & De Wet, 1993; Germishuizen & Meyer, 2003), which culminated eventually in the publication of Germishuizen et al. (2006). Politicians require good-news topics they can refer to when they deliver their budget speeches, and having an enriched and expanded checklist of the richest and most diverse temperate flora globally has delivered just that. Even although this list is still a far cry from having an up-to-date, easily accessible flora for the country, this most recently published version of the checklist was enhanced with primary biological information, such as growth form, endemic status and altitudinal range occurrence. Given that the first version of the checklist was established more than 25 years ago, successive generations of South African politicians and policymakers have had the benefit of regular exposure to the achievements of several generations of taxonomists, collectors, recorders and databasers working on the South African flora. Besides inputting to the aforementioned checklists, systematists have contributed over the past three decades, based on their field experience and herbarium materials, to a series of national and regional Red List updates (Hall et al., 1980; Hall & Veldhuis, 1985; Hilton-Taylor, 1996; Scott-Shaw, 1999; Golding, 2002). These have culminated in the most recent version (Raimondo et al., 2009), to which systematists contributed ±30% of the assessments. Published taxonomic research outputs on the South African flora have further enabled programmes such as C.A.P.E (Cape Action for People and the Environment) to have established the baseline for initiatives that today include significant socio-economic and rural upliftment components (Cadman et al., 2010).

Two additional goals are now included in the first Target of the 2011–2020 GSPC, namely adding descriptive and other flora-style information and disseminating such information electronically. The revised GSPC Targets are significantly more challenging for South Africa to achieve and will require the overcoming of challenges discussed below.

CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

Effective advocacy of the importance of the GSPC sub-objectives is highly challenging when housing, sanitation, primary education, job creation, basic health care and crime prevention are the priorities of many governments with economies that are least developed, developing or in transition. This is especially the case for South Africa, which, over the past 16 years, has been emerging from the legacy of the apartheid era and the inherent social and economic inequalities that were then introduced (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2010b; Wilhelm-Rechmann & Cowling, 2011). The most recent Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP, 2009) has unsurprisingly ranked South Africa 129th out of 182 countries according to its Human Development Index, a UNDP measure of human welfare that considers health, education and living standards. In South Africa, poverty is pervasive both in urban and rural settings, income inequalities remain large and employment is high (MED, 2010). In view of these challenges, many policymakers fail to relate the aforementioned political imperatives to biodiversity conservation/ecosystem functionality. When the socio-environmental connection is made, biodiversity conservation runs the risk of being viewed as conflicting with delivery on social prerogatives such as housing and job creation (Wilhelm-Rechmann & Cowling, 2011). Delivery of services in South Africa, as in other democratic nations of the world, translates to the currency of politicians, i.e. votes. Accordingly, the focus of politicians is too often on targets that are deliverable within a 4- to 5-year electoral cycle, rather than on ensuring long-term environmental health and sustainability. It is no surprise to note then that environmental protection is funded poorly within South Africa, relative to spending on housing, community amenities, education and health, among other sectors. For a country that is not in armed conflict with its neighbours, even the annual defence budget is over five times greater than that provided for environmental protection (Verwey et al., 2010). An analysis of trends in real consolidated spending by function indicates that the situation is unlikely to improve within the next 3 years, short of a major policy shift by the National Treasury (Verwey et al., 2010). The fiscal allocation pattern is only likely to improve significantly if the South African government concedes that the conservation of biodiversity is foundational, and not an afterthought requiring full engagement only once other objectives have been addressed. From the perspective of the Minister of Environmental Affairs, ‘the financing and resourcing of the environmental sector, in particular provinces and municipalities is not high up on the agenda’ (Parliamentary Monitoring Group, 2010a). In assessing the most recent State of the Environment Report for South Africa, a prominent non-governmental coalition was quick to identify the competing agendas of various government departments with that of the Department of Environmental Affairs, and has called for supra-departmental coordination by national government. The coalition reflected that, as long as departments are set on conflicting paths, longer-term considerations will be overridden by shorter-term political expediencies (Friedmann et al., 2007).

Based on the historical influence of ecological economics on government policy, Balmford & Cowling (2006) argued that, if perceptions of the value of natural capital are to be bolstered, then much more research effort should be placed on documenting and understanding the benefits of natural systems for human well-being. In such interdisciplinary research, which fuses perspectives from the social and natural sciences, these authors suggested that findings need to be expressed as benefits and costs of conservation in different currencies (e.g. lives, money, votes). On this basis, winners and losers can be identified and equitable conservation interventions devised. Importantly, therefore, recognition by taxonomists and other plant scientists of the relationship of their outputs to addressing socio-economic challenges in South Africa is key, as is the absolute necessity for their demonstrating the inter-relatedness of biodiversity and human well-being (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Basic floristic data presented as such are of little or no use to policymakers who, if the work of plant scientists is to impact on policy decisions, require potentially useful and insightful tertiary information. Even terms such as ‘biodiversity’ have been shown (Wilhelm-Rechmann & Cowling, 2011) to be very poorly understood by South African decision makers in the arena of land-use planning. Accordingly, the very format(s) these data take and the frameworks in which they are presented will impact strongly on the process of informing and influencing South African biodiversity policy: incomprehensible and irrelevant plant-based information will be ignored, and could even be considered a factor contributing to poor policy development. Ideally, valuable data should be posted in an interactive electronic format freely and readily accessible on the Internet. In this regard, the web-based Biodiversity Advisor launched by SANBI in March 2010 has proved to be not only useful to researchers, but also highly marketable to policymakers (SANBI, 2010). That said, these same decision makers need to be canvassed on the perceived importance and availability of different sources of information that they have historically accessed, or expect would be useful. These resources might take the form of peer-reviewed scientific publications, unpublished reports, synthetic reviews, web-based tools and one-to-one interactions. Such an assessment would help scientists to understand the needs of an influential element of their target audience (Seavy & Howell, 2010). Similarly, there are other lessons to be learned from translating science into policy, including whether research outcomes identified in South Africa's NBSAP are truly policy relevant, and whether these have, and still continue to have, advanced the GSPC.

The valuable contribution of the plant sciences needs to be directed into mainstream debates and popular focus, an aspect not yet achieved in South Africa (Smith & Wolfson, 2004). However, the discourse with government has been given a recent boost with a growing awareness for the effects of human-induced climate change and the uncontrolled spread of alien invasive organisms. Both impact negatively on biological, physical and built environments of South Africa, leading to a decline in the delivery of ecosystem services. Most especially, threats to water security and the productive use of land have been recognized (Blignaut et al., 2009). Politicians have accordingly recognized the link between both climate change and alien invasives, and threats to national economic and developmental agendas. The means by which these particular plant conservation-linked issues have been so effectively communicated to biodiversity policymakers deserves further study and analysis, such that effective advocacy principles can be distilled and employed in future to enhance national implementation of the Strategy. South African studies on prevalent frames of interpretation of biodiversity issues in relation to socio-economic development are already underway (Wilhelm-Rechmann & Cowling, 2011). Insights so derived should direct ‘smart’ advocacy. These efforts require intensification if South Africa is not to continue directly and indirectly shifting key ecosystems towards the potential ‘tipping points’ identified by Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 (CBD, 2010).

Slowly, the penny seems to be dropping that biodiversity retention is non-negotiable, that natural systems support economies and that ecosystem maintenance relies inescapably and ultimately on our basic knowledge of organisms. After all, it is science-based information that will best inform policy that supports sustainable development. As plant scientists we need to recognize that here is an opportunity to capitalize on a debate that advocates our importance to governments; discourse that should give biodiversity a high priority in all areas of decision making, including the economic sector. In South Africa, biodiversity concerns are not yet mainstreamed in the policies of all key sectors. To achieve this, trust must be built when in discussion with policymakers, such that all parties are seen to be working with a common vision, namely that of supporting a prosperous and equitable South African society living in harmony with its natural resources, functioning for the greater benefit of humankind. Whereas a major shift in fiscal allocation towards environmental protection is unlikely in the foreseeable future, it is nonetheless possible to positively influence relatively enormous annual budgets for education, housing, public works and health, among other sectors. Such strategic influence by the conservation community during the 2011–2020 GSPC phase should improve the sustainability of developments and nurture environmental awareness in this developing nation. Importantly, biologists need to realize that politicians and policymakers generally have no grasp whatsoever of the effort and cost required to collect, preserve and study biological material, the expertise required to adequately identify, classify and name organisms, and the timescale involved in acquiring the requisite expertise. Of course the same, or at least like-minded, policymakers supported and proposed the signing of the CBD by their governments, perhaps not realizing fully what they were committing to in its broadest sense: a package that brought both opportunity and obligations. The expectation that ratification would lead to a more equitable sharing of benefits derived from biodiversity (CBD, article 8j) held by the megadiverse nations of the south likely made it seem, as it was, a good idea at the time.

It is apparent that policymakers and funders presently tend to identify more readily with mega-projects. The enormously successful, and expanding, Working for Water Programme of South Africa is a case in point (DWAF, 2010). This project, initiated some years ago, has a significant budget and attracted the attention of politicians on an unprecedented scale when urban areas in the legislative capital, Cape Town, were threatened by high-intensity fires as a result of densely established alien vegetation. The destructive impacts of invasive alien organisms on the South African landscape and indigenous biodiversity even made headlines in the South African popular press (Environment Writer, 2000). This was achieved through involving politicians in the debate, including the former President of South Africa. His (Thabo Mbeki's) arguments and concerns strongly supported the eradication of invasives because of the impact of these organisms on an African Renaissance. Such a major ‘coup’ for biodiversity science in South Africa was achieved through direct and extensive lobbying of politicians by biodiversity specialists and research programme managers. But, clearly, this advocacy process must be carried beyond politicians and policymakers; for broader buy-in, educating the South African population about the importance of an alien-free environment is just as important (Anonymous, 2001). Ideally, all South Africans need to be inspired and empowered to take responsibility for conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity. This can only happen following the dispelling of the perception that biodiversity conservation is all about bad news or that it is socially unjust as it denies access to natural assets and services to poor, predominantly black people (Wilhelm-Rechmann & Cowling, 2011). Against this interpretation framework, and in view of other demands on fiscal resources, biodiversity conservation in South Africa would clearly benefit from positive publicity. Innovative approaches to raising public awareness will likely require inputs from media experts, if political gains made to date are to be maintained and capitalized on (Balmford & Cowling, 2006).

Meeting the Targets of the GSPC in the face of an increasingly degraded South African environment will require the scaling up of efforts by plant scientists. However, proposing large-scale, preserved specimen-based and taxonomy-driven projects (even exceedingly good ones) does not guarantee funding, unless there is at least what can be perceived as a significant cutting edge component; enter bar coding and other recent innovations (Smith et al., 2007). Nonetheless, funding remains elusive in several very deserving instances, such as ongoing floristic work in Angola (Figueiredo & Smith, 2008). If funding cannot be found within the country, it is hoped that, following integration of the GSPC with the Strategic Plan of the CBD, the financial mechanism will mobilize resources concomitant with enabling South Africa, and other ratifying Parties for that matter, to achieve the revised Targets of the Strategy.

We recognize successful advocacy of sub-objective 1 as essential for national implementation of the Strategy. Its attainment will mutually service the cross-cutting sub-objective 4 (Target 14), ‘promoting education and awareness about plant diversity’, as well as other Targets. Taxonomists working towards a complete world flora (Target 1 of sub-objective 1) need to take responsibility for intensified, informative communication efforts: no one else is willing, or able, to effectively advocate the value of plant systematics and other foundational plant science disciplines. To develop an electronic flora of South Africa to meet the requirements of the current GSPC round will require substantial resources (in plant sciences and in information and communication technology, given the so-called ‘digital divide’ that much of Africa still suffers from) and commitment. From a South African perspective, it remains vastly more productive and sustainable to engage government officials positively on the benefits of having a healthy in-country biodiversity research programme. Constantly having to explain that a lack of human capital and dwindling expertise, fiscal resources and infrastructure are impeding progress becomes a self-defeating exercise. The much-flaunted Taxonomic Impediment of the Global Taxonomy Initiative of the CBD provides a good example: being confronted by statements about the daunting and utterly crippling requirements for delivery of robust and defendable taxonomies of the millions of known and undiscovered and undescribed biota makes it easy for governments to throw their hands in the air and walk away from at least some facets of their environmental responsibilities. Taxonomists should rather use every opportunity to contextualize and bring their products and achievements to the attention of government departmental officials and bureaucrats, and politicians. This can be carried out, for example, through personal contact at launches of their floras, field and other guides, producing hard copy and e-newsletters, such as the very successful Kew Scientist produced by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK, and, once achieved, extolling the value of supporting the output-driven GSPC targets.

Our argument must be that, in the case of understanding and documenting plant diversity, there is a very clear imperative (Smith & Klopper, 2002). After all, who bar ourselves can deliver the information required to ensure that South African obligations in the plant conservation field are met for the benefit of their citizenry or, indeed, for the global good? If you want to sell something, be it science or the value of natural capital, there are only three golden rules: marketing, marketing and marketing.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

To maximize the likelihood of achieving the Targets for the period 2011–2020, it is clear that there is a need to better inform and influence the interface between biodiversity science and biodiversity policy and to strategically plan for such. This takes into account national priorities and circumstances within an emerging economy, where the conservation of biodiversity competes for government resources with issues of apparently more immediate socio-economic importance. This situation is certainly not unique to South Africa and other emerging economies, but most definitely seems to be more acute in these countries and regions. A key challenge identified by local biodiversity scientists for the 2011–2020 GSPC phase is broad-scale advocacy, communicating the changing state of nature and the interrelatedness of biodiversity and human well-being. It is realized that plant scientists, including systematists providing baseline data, have a responsibility to increasingly and regularly communicate the value of their work to politicians and policymakers. In the research value chain, governments more often than not provide funding investment as one non-negotiable input into creating an enabling environment conducive to generating results. It is up to scientists to generate the outputs, but most importantly to ensure that the outcomes and impacts of their work are understood and appreciated. Hence, effective advocacy, to the extent of one-to-one interactions (Seavy & Howell, 2010), is critical if the necessary technical, financial and human resources of the State are to be either directed, or allocated, to achieve the various GSPC Targets.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES

The Royal Society is thanked for financial support that allowed the participation of N.R.C. at the discussion meeting on science and development of government policy post-GSPC: lessons for the future, Kew, June 2010. Michael Koen kindly facilitated access to web resources.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. THE BIOLOGICAL AND LANDSCAPE DIVERSITY OF SOUTH AFRICA
  5. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
  6. SOUTH AFRICA AND THE GLOBAL STRATEGY FOR PLANT CONSERVATION
  7. CHALLENGES WITH INFORMING AND INFLUENCING POLICY
  8. CONCLUSION
  9. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  10. REFERENCES
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