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The Biological Control Research Group receives award

Date Released: Wed, 10 December 2014 13:00 +0200

The Biological Control Research Group (BCRG) Mass Rearing Programme’s dynamic approach to the restoration of aquatic ecosystems has earned the group widespread accolades and acknowledgement, most recently in the form of an environmental award from Rhodes University.

According to Professor Martin Hill, Head of Entomology, the BCRG retains a focus on processes of implementation and technology transfer and works closely with members of local communities to introduce new approaches.

“We are very fortunate in that we are able to do fundamental research in a particular field, implement it through the community and it ultimately leads to some form of environmental protection,” he said.

The group received the 2013 Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Community Engagement for their involvement of people with disabilities who are employed by the unit, a major focus of the group’s efforts.

“This is one of the most important initiatives we have got going. There is a big drive for us as far as possible to employ people with disabilities which is more important to us than just providing someone with a salary – for us it’s about how to build capacity,” he said.

For Mrs Nobesuthu Nkontsa, project manager of the Waainek mass rearing facility, the award is a great achievement and symbolizes the impact the group’s work is having on the environment and in the lives of people with disabilities in Grahamstown.

“This is a new beginning for people with disabilities in Grahamstown. This project has changed things for us and is a great achievement. I’ve never received an award like this before. This is a great opportunity Prof Hill has given us especially for me as I’m the only lady in the group. I believe that is empowering to other women who might be sitting at home with disabilities. There is hope out there and I hope people realize you wont get anything sitting inside the house.”

Fostering collaborative and cohesive efforts which strengthen and build community relationships is also important, Prof Hill said, referring to the group’s initiatives with Working for Water, SAEON Elwandle Node in Grahamstown, GADRA, a local secondary school and a student outreach programme, WildREACH. The programme has provided practical leadership opportunities to local school children, which also ensures community involvement in environmental stewardship.

“We know it all too well here in Grahamstown that the supply, quantity and quality of water in South Africa, especially in rural areas, is going to be a pressing problem and must be given urgent attention. We need to do more here at Rhodes to make this everybody’s responsibility.

We watch in horror about rhino poaching and associate rhinos with the environment and we feel completely helpless. But it is about all the steps that lead up to the end result that are important and I believe the question is whether we can take those little steps that make changes that is really important,” added Prof Hill.

Established in 2008 the BCRG received the award in the category of a Rhodes University department, institute or section winner for its impressive mass?rearing facility that aims to meet the demand for biological control agents – host-specific natural enemies which are used to control waterweeds.

The BCRG has to date released close to a million biological control agents over the last six years to control common waterweeds in South Africa, helping to restore aquatic ecosystem services, increase the supply of water, and improve water quality.

Invasive aquatic weeds pose an increasing threat to national aquatic ecosystems, and to the quantity and quality of potable water, while costing the government millions of Rands to control each year. Water hyacinth alone, the world’s worst aquatic weed, accounts for up to 40% water loss through evapotranspiration, and threatens the livelihoods of rural communities in Africa.

From l-r: Mr Vuyani Ntyinkala, Ms Nobesuthu Nkontsa and Mr Lunga Ngeju.



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