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Who are we?

We are a small department dedicated to advancing inter- and trans-disciplinary science and learning aimed at understanding and managing complex human-environmental/social-ecological systems, with a focus on Africa.  We have five core academic staff members, a DST/NRF (SARChI) Research Chair in “Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods”, and four support staff.  We draw students from all faculties and currently have 50 senior postgraduates, 12 Honours students, and some 140 undergraduates. We are one of the most productive departments in the university in terms of per capita research outputs.

Our vision is to:

Lead and advance knowledge development, capacity building, and communication for sustainable human-environmental systems.

Our history

We started out in 1998 as a cross-departmental Environmental Science Programme established to facilitate learning opportunities for students interested in environmental issues. Due to the success of the initiative and the growing numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students seeking knowledge, research opportunities and skills development in environmental science, the programme evolved into a fully-fledged department at the end of 2002. Under this guise we continue to flourish in all spheres of university endeavour.

What is our focus and core areas of research?

We are interested in human-environment interactions and in the governance and sustainable management of complex social-ecological systems. We recognise that we are living in a globalising and rapidly changing world characterised by numerous interconnected environmental and social challenges. We undertake research on the ecological and socio-economic dimensions of these challenges, with the goal of contributing towards more resilient, equitable and sustainable pathways into the future. The nexus between human well-being, livelihoods, vulnerability, ecosystem services and change is central in all our work.  Key areas of research include:

  • Livelihoods, vulnerability and biodiversity
  • Ecosystem services and societal benefits
  • Non-timber forest products use, trade and management
  • Landscape change and land degradation
  • Co-management and governance of protected areas
  • Community based natural resource management
  • Social learning for change
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Urbanisation, urban greening and forestry
  • Ecosystem restoration and carbon sequestration
  • Invasive plants – uses, impacts and management
  • Food security, especially in relation to ecosystem services provision and wild foods

What approaches guide our research, teaching and community engagement?

We take a trans-interdisciplinary, social justice approach to tacking environment and development challenges and improving the management and governance of social-ecological systems. We attract students and co-researchers from a variety of academic disciplines (natural and social scientists), as well work with partners outside of the University. We endeavour to use action orientated approaches in our research and regularly employ participatory and social learning methodologies to co-develop and exchange knowledge with stakeholders. We recognise different epistemological starting points and draw on a variety of frameworks and qualitative and quantitative research methods. We are committed to finding ways to communicate and facilitate the uptake of our research into policy and practice and place a strong emphasis on community engagement and service learning as an important pillar of higher education.

Who do we work with?

We work with a range of international, national, regional and local partners and collaborators from research institutions and universities; government and non-government agencies; networks, working groups and communities of practice; and local communities. We participate in large interdisciplinary, cross-institutional and country research teams, with recent and current partners coming from Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Malawi, Indonesia, Sweden, and India to mention some. For a small department, we have an established and respected international and national reputation and are often invited to participate in international forums, projects and conferences.

Our Mission is to:

Generate knowledge and new practices, skills and understanding of complex, dynamic human-environmental systems in Africa and the world through excellence in teaching, learning, research, and community engagement.

Our associated goals are to:

  • Produce well-rounded and critical thinking graduates with the potential to become future leaders capable of addressing complex environment-development challenges, particularly in Africa.
  • Foster and execute innovative, relevant, co-designed interdisciplinary research at the interface between economic, social and biophysical systems.
  • Communicate and translate research results for maximum impact at multiple scales from policy development, to global environmental fora and community action.
  • Partner with stakeholders, practitioners and communities to develop and/or share new knowledge and environmental best practice.
  • Advance interdisciplinary environmental science research as a domain of knowledge development.
  • Advance environmental best practice and reputation at Rhodes University and within surrounding communities.
  • Foster diversity in the student body and support development of black South Africans as future leaders in the country.
  • Regularly monitor, evaluate and debate our progress towards achieving the stipulated goals and actions.

Last Modified: Mon, 09 Sep 2019 15:19:40 SAST