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New Rhodes SARChI Chair to help address food security and biodiversity loss through biological control

Date Released: Tue, 13 August 2013 11:59 +0200

Rhodes University welcomes Professor Steve Compton who has moved to Rhodes from Leeds University in the United Kingdom, to take up the prestigious SARChI Chair in Insects in Sustainable Agricultural Ecosystems in the Department of Zoology and Entomology from July 2013.

To understand the critical importance of this research we need to look no further than the global expenditure on pesticides, which has increased to well over USD 50-billion per year. This is an untenable use of chemicals and poisons in an age where environmental pollution, carbon emissions and loss of biodiversity are three of the key threats to our planet’s sustainability.

Fortunately there is an alternative: it’s called biological control.

Biological control (the development of host specific natural enemies) offers the most effective and long?term solution for the control of invasive alien plant species and insect pests in agriculture. However, biological control is not well developed on the African continent.

This Chair aims to remedy this.

“With Prof Compton at the helm, the Chair will conduct fundamental plant/insect interaction research on insect pests and invasive alien plants, the outcomes of which can ultimately be implemented to address food security and biodiversity loss, and reduce the amount of pesticide being used. This is relevant science at its best,” says Rhodes University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research & Development, Dr Peter Clayton.

The Chair will have two main focus areas, the biological control of invasive alien weeds (most notably aquatic weeds that threaten the quality and quantity of potable water in southern Africa) and the biological control of several insect pests (most notably those threatening the supply of fruit and vegetables from the peri?urban sector in the Eastern Cape).

Professor Compton’s work will integrate closely with the laboratory of Professor Martin Hill, Head of Entomology at Rhodes, who has built momentum and a strong reputation for the university in these and related areas, attracting longstanding funding from the Working for Water Programme, the Agricultural Research Council, Citrus Research International, and others.

The proposed research builds on 50 years of leading research conducted and published within the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Rhodes. This Chair will add to the reputation and research excellence of this department and the Rhodes Science Faculty.

SARChI Chairs, awarded by the DST-NRF South African Research Chairs Initiative, are widely regarded as South Africa’s most prestigious academic research platforms. Rhodes as the smallest university in South Africa holds an impressive 10 SARChI Chairs or 7% of all SARChI Chairs awarded to date.

Rhodes prides itself on its high percentage of postgraduate students, which all of its SARChI programmes help to produce. At the 2013 graduation ceremony Rhodes graduated 948 students or 41% with postgraduate degrees. It celebrated a new University record of 63 PhDs – an outstanding achievement for the smallest university in the country.

The Science Faculty has proved particularly productive. In 2013 it produced 35 PhD graduates, 83 Masters graduates and 132 Honours graduates.

Rhodes has one of the highest percentages of staff with doctorates of all South African universities: 56% of Rhodes academics have Doctorates and 29% have Masters degrees.

Rhodes holds ten SARChI Chairs, including:

Marine Ecosystems;

The SKA Chair in Radio Astronomy Techniques and Technologies;

Medicinal Chemistry and Nanotechnology;

Mathematics Education;


Intellectualisation of African Languages, Multilingualism and Education;

Insects in Sustainable Agricultural Ecosystems;

Interdisciplinary Science in Land and Natural Resource Use for Sustainable Livelihoods;

Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction: Human and Social Dynamics; and

Marine Natural Products Research.

Rhodes is currently funding a range of new academic initiatives as part of its strategy to grow its postgraduate student numbers, research and development programmes and to increase its research outputs. This will further enhance its standing as the ‘Scholarly University’.