Despite restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Applied Learning Unit (ALU) has continued with its projects and development. In doing so, the ALU uses research and innovation to address the information required by practitioners, policy makers and rural communities in conservation. The unit addresses these requirements by continuing the development of a wide variety of projects/functions around practical and applied questions. These are brought to the SAWC by conservation agencies and/or protected area managers. All of the projects illustrate the applicability of the research to the conservation sector. These projects also allow the unit to develop exciting and mutually beneficial collaborations with similarly minded institutes both locally, regionally and internationally. Some of these projects are listed below.
1) Monitoring tools being utilized/developed;
i. the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) in partnership with PPF.
ii. in partnership with Vulcan, EarthRanger has been added to the SAWC tools for training of protected area monitoring.
iii. in partnership with National Geographic, ESRI, GIS Corps and Peace Parks Foundation, the unit has added the ESRI Conservation Solution to our tool box for use at the College and included it in our training portfolio.
iv. The unit has been working as part of an international collaboration, funded by Erasmus+, to capacitate One Health research in South African higher education institutions. The project is named ELEPHANT (Empowering Universities’ Learning and Research Capacities in the one Health Approach for the management of animals at the interface between humans, livestock, wildlife and environment in South Africa). Each partner was assigned specific roles during the application process and the project formally got underway at the beginning of 2020. The SAWC’s specific role, in addition to increasing One Health capacity, was to create a multi stakeholder communication, collaboration and information sharing platform called Virtual One Health Research Platform(VOHRP).
v. The development of the Web Based Training Needs Analysis (TNA) website for the conservation sector is in process. This site will firstly allow conservation organizations to do their own TNA by building an organogram and then seeing what skills are required for each position and for each employee. Secondly it will also in time act as a directory for training providers across SADC. The demand for such a site appears to be on the increase.
2) Supervision of Student Thesis;
i. M.Sc. A situational analysis of water supply in Welverdiend, Bushbuckridge Municipality, South Africa. Fanuel Nleya, Stellenbosch University. Work continues but slowed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
ii. M.Sc. The effects of temperature, container colour, and nutrient levels on oviposition of Culex pipiens complex (Diptera: Culicidae). Peter Hamming Wits University. Masters Completed in 2020.
iii. Ph.D. Towards Co-Management of small scale inland fisheries and livelihoods: A case of Lake Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, Zambia. Sydney Kapembwa, Stellenbosch University. Ph.D. completed in 2020, the thesis was defended and the degree awarded.
3. Other Projects/Courses;
i. Herding 4 Health particularly in the Welverdiend grazing system.
ii. Provided support for improving the College IT system through the NORHED project. Discussions have taken place and the department has prepared potential project documents for NMBU (sending MSc students to SAWC for field projects). A feasibility grant submission for a tri-party partnership to NOREC with the Maasai training centre, and NMBU.
iii. Campus Environmental improvements included: the vegetable garden, water plan development and mapping, mosquito control and waste water measures and improving the water system tanks.
iv. Input on Diploma Development for the SAWC, both strategy and development of modules for the three-year diploma course.
v. Started the development of a Mobile Training Unit.
vi. IT inputs
- Integrated “Teams” across College and with Peace Parks Foundation,
- IT ticketing system developed for tracking work of the IT department,
- An electronic vehicle request application and tracking system has been developed for the Operations Department.
The SAWC has always offered practical hands-on training but the Applied Learning Unit allows SAWC to trial and adapt novel solutions to current conservation sector challenges. The model of collaborating with both green sector professionals and academics has allowed the unit to build and develop fruitful working relationships with many diverse organizations.
As with most departments and institutes the main challenge this year has been the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on training, conservation and tourism/travel at large. During the Level-5 lock down the ALU had to work remotely in a rural setting, with members of staff scattered across the landscape. New systems had to be put in place in order for it to function. Members of the ALU have not been able to undertake international travel and visit areas where projects could be developed and where meaningful collaboration can evolve.
However, the ALU continues with its dream to provide conservationists with a sustainable platform to unite and solve conservation challenges together. To this end the College continues to partner with Peace Parks Foundation to source funding to support a technology and innovation hub to be based at the College. The Hub will take the shape of a centre of excellence laboratory, which will employ IT specialists, analysts, coordinators and strategists tasked to take solutions and case studies from the field (via a multitude of channels), capture this data into a central knowledge sharing platform, extract real time developments and package the information into various consumable formats.
The College would like to thank Vulcan and National Geographic for their support of the tech and innovation hub, the Rand Merchant Bank Environment Fund (RMB) for their important financial support to the development of the Applied Learning Unit and the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development for their assistance in capacity building at the College.
The ALU team 2020.