School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Fountainhill Estate Symposium Series Explores the Food-Water-Energy Nexus and Biodiversity

Fountainhill Estate (FHE), a conservation and agriculture enterprise in KwaZulu-Natal that facilitates environmental and agricultural research in the uMngeni catchment by partnering with many organisations, including UKZN has moved its annual research symposium online for a series of seminars.

Cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual two-day research symposium has seen four previous successful iterations where various presenters shared their multi-disciplinary academic research, observational studies and surveys and citizen science efforts that cover research underway at FHE and in the catchment.

Adapting to pandemic conditions, FHE partnered with UKZN, the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to host four online seminars over a period of seven weeks on the fundamentals of the Food-Water-Energy (WEF) nexus and biodiversity.

Drawing interest from more than 500 individuals from a wide range of organisations, the first in the four-part series featured a keynote address by Dr Morné du Plessis, the CEO of the WWF South Africa. He discussed the impacts of land use and management strategies on biodiversity with more than 150 participants.

Executive Director of the INR Dr Sershen Naidoo welcomed attendees, noting that the event was being co-hosted for the first time.

‘Compromise gave birth to the theme for this symposium, and it was also inspired by the nexus thinking that is developing internationally in an attempt to understand and deal with the interdependencies that exist in complex natural and human systems,’ he said. ‘This nexus thinking is becoming increasingly important as we push against planetary boundaries of resource use and emerging resource constraints.

‘The nexus becomes even more relevant when we think about managing resources within a pandemic.’

Du Plessis’ presentation began by exploring why biodiversity and ecosystems matter and questioning if biodiversity has been effectively foregrounded. He spoke about the drivers and threats to biodiversity and offered insight into how it is changing while detailing possible solutions for curbing biodiversity loss and looking to the future.

‘Nature underpins our entire existence by providing provisioning, regulatory, cultural and supporting systems, and its services are under severe threat,’ he said.

Du Plessis called for increased focus on the biosphere in achieving human well-being, as opposed to focusing on achieving well-being through the economy at the expense of nature.

He emphasised that indicators of biodiversity loss consistently point to a downward trend.

‘Wherever you come from, there is a role to play in one way or another,’ said du Plessis.

‘We simply have to aim higher; we cannot keep producing good science and statistics to show how the ship is sinking; we need to make science mainstream.’

Du Plessis concluded with a discussion on the New Deal for Nature and People, and said the pandemic had presented the opportunity to refine some thinking around these goals and solutions.

Subsequent seminars held on 4 and 18 February, respectively focused on the elements of food and water, with the final seminar – a panel discussion on the topic of energy – scheduled for 4 March.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied