Target 15: Capacity development


The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities sufficient according to national needs, to achieve the targets of this Strategy

Contributors: J. Kioko, C. Brown & D. Raimondo


Within the tertiary education sector, a wide variety of courses are offered in fields that contribute to training in plant conservation. All 23 public universities offer environment-related courses at various levels (from short courses to post-graduate programmes).

Although there are courses, infrastructure and capacity to support plant conservation in South African higher education institutions, access to higher education is particularly low in the country (only about 16% of young people who should be at university, actually are), and the graduation rates are undesirably low (on average, only about 40% of those enrolled for undergraduate degrees or diplomas complete their courses). Furthermore, many of the successful graduates do not find employment, with students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds being grossly over-represented among the unemployed. This level of unemployment is in spite of a demonstrated shortage of appropriately skilled graduates for the biodiversity sector. Thus, there seems to be a persistent mismatch between the supply of trained graduates and the skills required. The plant conservation field is not exempt from this mismatch. In response to this challenge in 2009, South Africa produced the Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy. This strategy aims to address South Africa’s shortage of skills to manage its biodiversity and improve historical inequalities in the sector.

One valuable intervention catalysed by the Biodiversity Human Capital Development has been the Groen Sebenza programme for developing young conservation practitioners across South Africa. The programme is a partnership between SANBI and 33 organisations from all tiers of government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector. Groen Sebenza is based on an ‘incubator model’ giving the 800 participating youth workplace experience through a structured mentoring programme, together with skills development and training opportunities for a period of two-and-a-half years from April 2013 to December 2016. Five hundred graduates and 300 school leavers (matriculants) referred to as ‘pioneers’ are placed within one of the 33 partner organisations for the duration of the project. Funding for this programme comes from National Treasury’s Jobs Fund, and is being channelled into the conservation sector by the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA). As part of each placement, training is provided. This training includes general job place training such a project management skills, conflict resolutions skills etc. It also includes specific training relevant to the specialist field of the plant conservation project that the intern is in. For example, Groen Sebenza pioneers placed with the Botanical Society and working on threatened plants, receive intensive training on how to conduct Red List Assessments and also how to conduct monitoring of threatened plants in the field. It is highly likely that there will be a second phase of the Groen Sebenza programme implemented between 2016 and 2019.

A second valuable mentorship opportunity is offered by the National Research Foundation (NRF) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Through the DST–NRF internship programme, unemployed science graduates and postgraduates are afforded an opportunity to acquire practical work experience and improve their competencies through exposure to a research environment. Graduates are placed for one year in various in South African scientific research institutions. Many receive placements in conservation projects within biodiversity research institutions. The DST–NRF internship programme is a long-term programme implemented on an annual basis.

Target 15 outcomes for 2020

15.1.   Conservation courses offered in South Africa’s universities aligned with skills needed in the field of plant conservation.

15.2.   Work place mentorship opportunities available in plant conservation programmes.

South Africa has a strong history of botanical research, however, despite this there a still a number of areas of plant conservation where there is lack of appropriate skills. These areas were identified in 2013 as part of a workshop to develop this National Plant Conservation Strategy. The three most urgent skills development interventions required include:

Promoting applied ecology and ethnobotanical studies in universities to ensure skills exist to sustainably manage the over-utilisation of South Africa’s plant species. This intervention will help South Africa achieve Target 11, Target 12 and Target 13.

Developing skills amongst conservation graduates to assess the quality of Environmental Impact Assessments and to conduct law enforcement processes linked to land-use rights. This intervention will allow South Africa to achieve Target 5 and Target 7.

Reversing the declining trend in the foundational science of plant taxonomy. This declining trend is affecting South Africa’s ability to achieve Target 1, Target 2 and Target 3 of this strategy.

Target 15: The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities sufficient according to national needs, to achieve the targets of this Strategy
Outcomes Activities Responsible stakeholders Timeframe
15.1. Conservation courses offered in South Africa’s universities aligned with skills needed in the field of plant conservation. 15.1.1. GreenMatter partnership, responsible for the implementation of the Biodiversity Human Capital Development Strategy aware of critical skills required for plant conservation and appropriate interventions being made. 15.1.1. BotSoc. 15.1.1. 2015
15.1.2. Workshops hosted that bring together conservation practitioners and staff from South Africa’s Universities of Technology that offer Nature Conservation and Horticultural Diplomas to identify skills required for improved environmental management, law enforcement and ex situ conservation. 15.1.2. BotSoc. 15.1.2. 2016
15.1.3. Course convenors of postgraduate university courses in conservation at the University of Cape Town (UCT), University of Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Stellenbosch aware of and teaching students about the conservation priorities as identified in this strategy and the NBSAP. 15.1.3. Postgraduate course convenors at UCT, Stellenbosch and Wits, Strategy for Plant Conservation coordinator (SANBI). 15.1.3. 2015–2017
15.2. Work place mentorship opportunities available in plant conservation programmes. 15.2.1. Plant conservation research programmes continue to host interns supported by the DST–NRF Internship programme. 15.2.1. Plant Conservation Network. 15.2.1. Ongoing
15.2.2. Internship opportunities as part of the Groen Sebenza Programme available in plant conservation programmes. 15.2.2. Plant Conservation Network. 15.2.2. Ongoing
15.3. Promote postgraduate research studies required to ensure the conservation of South Africa’s plant species. 15.3.1. Bursaries provided for taxonomic revisions of priority genera identified in the paper: ‘Taxonomic research priorities for the conservation of the South African flora’, Von Staden et al. 2013. 15.3.1. SANBI and DST–NRF. 15.3.1. Ongoing
15.3.2. Bursaries provided for applied ecology and ethno-botanical studies to research sustainable harvesting requirements of South Africa’s most highly utilised plant species. 15.3.2. Scientific Authority of South Africa and DST–NRF 15.3.2. Ongoing