SANBI-GBIF Hosts the Sixth GBIF-Africa Regional Meeting to enhance biodiversity informatics efforts on the continent

A very successful GBIF-Africa Nodes Meeting was held, from the 18th to the 19th of July, and was hosted by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) Node. The purpose of the meeting was to ensure cohesion and coordination of biodiversity informatics endeavours on the continent; to review the status of the Nodes such as their highlights, achievements and challenges and to develop the 2016 – 2018 GBIF Africa Work Plan in order to align it with the new GBIF Strategic and Implementation Plan 2017 – 2021.

The GBIF Africa Regional Meeting was attended by nine GBIF Participant Country Nodes including Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo and South Africa, with Nodes being based at institutions such as the National Museums of Kenya, the University of Ghana, the University of Abomey-Calavi, the University of Lome and Ecole Normale Supérieure de Nouakchott, amongst others.  The GBIF Organisational Participant included the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).  A very important contribution to the meeting was the participation of the Technical Support Unit for the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), was also present to try and ensure that the data feeds into science-policy relevant process.

The meeting was set in motion with an official opening by SANBI CEO Dr. Tanya Abrahamse who welcomed the national and regional delegates “SANBI is pleased to be hosting the Sixthth meeting of the GBIF-Africa network, in the framework of establishing the GBIF -Africa Coordinating Mechanism. We want to take this opportunity to coordinate the various activities that have been happening on the continent, we will harness what we have, with the energy, effort and passion to mobilise both data and our network of partners, to contribute to a sustainable future for Africa”.

Through the GBIF-Africa network, it is intended to mainstream efforts into key continental processes, such as the IPBES Africa Regional Assessment and other global processes including GBIF, so that Africa speaks with a united voice”.   The Sixth region meeting also provided an opportunity to engage on efforts of the GBIF led, very exciting Biodiversity for Development (BID) Initiative, which is making a significant financial contribution towards data mobilisation ad capacity development on the African continent.

Each of the GBIF-Africa Node Managers gave feedback regarding their Node highlights, challenges and achievements. Highlights shared involved the implementation of the biodiversity curriculum in Benin and South Africa; the development of large consortiums in the sub-regions engaged in data mobilization activities, the Nodes’ involvement in broader projects; collaboration with and amongst African countries; , training and capacity building; discussions about leveraging sustainable funding at the National and regional level; citizen science engagements; biodiversity informatics mainstreaming efforts to policy and across value chains in certain institutions as well as the increase in usage and innovation of  new tools, applications and technology in the mobilization of biodiversity data.  Very promising was the development of key biodiversity informatics research papers by Node Managers from Benin and Ghana relating to Digital Accessible Knowledge (DAK).

Governance considerations were also discussed including challenges with government support and commitment to the Nodes, overcoming communication and language barriers in the Nodes, and institutional arrangements and mandates supporting GBIF Nodes. Challenges such as capacity gaps, Africa’s biodiversity data being housed overseas and often in the large museums of the world, overcoming data gaps and issues of licensing were identified and deliberated upon in practical terms.

Michelle Walters from the CSIR, and the Technical Support Unit of the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), delivered a presentation discussing possible GBIF involvements in IPBES, as there are approximately 40 African countries who are IPBES members, and who are anticipated to contribute to the IPBES Regional Africa Assessment. However, she emphasised that a challenge remains in obtaining biodiversity data especially from North, West and Central African countries. Ms Parker-Allie indicated that “this Sixth GBIF-Regional Meeting provided an ideal opportunity for the Nodes and IPBES to explore mutual areas of cooperation and support in and endeavour to support the data-science-policy interface and in this manner the relevant conventions which our national governments are committed to”.

The Senior Programme Officer for GBIF Node Development, Dr. Mèlianie Raymond was also in attendance. “I would like to thank SANBI for its leadership and hosting it provides in this work.” She mentioned. She was also very optimistic of the growth in collaboration and coordination in the Africa network.

Dr. Raymond shared and discussed the key GBIF work programme and activities which have taken place over the past year. During the course of the two day meeting she also presented an overview of the GBIF Strategic Plan (2017-2021) and the Implementation Plan update and the Biodiversity Information for Development initiative.

This Sixth GBIF Africa Regional Meeting proved of tremendous value in convening this band of brothers and sisters, all committed to the efforts of biodiversity data management and sharing, as perspectives, progress and innovations were shared amongst the African Node managers. For more information contact Fatima Parker-Allie on