IN CONVERSATION WITH….Prof Alfred Maroyi – NRF C-Rated Researcher

Read time: 8 mins

IN CONVERSATION WITH….Prof Alfred Maroyi – NRF C-Rated Researcher

Professor Alfred Maroyi is a senior lecturer in the Department of Botany within the Faculty of Science and Agriculture.

Prof Maroyi is a botanical expert who has spent over 20 years studying and documenting the diversity of plants and their use in rural and urban communities. His research focuses on the relationship between plants and people. Prof Maroyi strongly believes that the documentation of important plant species can be used as a vehicle for preserving plant resources and the cultural heritage of local communities. He also believes that acquiring and sharing of botanical knowledge is important in understanding the values and use of plant resources. 

This Week@FortHare asked the usual questions.

Who is Prof Maroyi?

I obtained my primary and high school education in Zimbabwe. After high school I enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe where I obtained a BSc Honours in Biological Sciences, majoring in Botany and Ecology as well as a Master of Philosophy in Botany.  My PhD was obtained from the Biodiversity School at the Wageningen University, Netherlands.

My first academic appointment was in 2000, as a Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences at Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) in Zimbabwe. Since then, I have been teaching botanical courses at university level, at BUSE, University of Limpopo, University of Namibia and since 2013, at the University of Fort Hare.

I am also a Visiting Professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy for a PhD programme in Ecogastronomy, Education and Society.

https://www.unisg.it/corsi-iscrizioni/corso-dottorato-ecogastronomia-formazione-societa/

In the broader academic community:

  • I was appointed as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine in 2012, in recognition of my ethnobotanical expertise. This is a Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) accredited journal with 2.264 impact factor. Participating in the Journal’s scholarly activities has been a key step in my career progression as an academic and research scientist. I am highly interested in this field and gladly share information and promote the Journal in my network, especially in tropical Africa. The Journal provides a platform for exchanging sound knowledge and practices within ethnobiology/ethnoecology/ethnomedicine among scientists and other stakeholders, and fosters these multidisciplinary fields in developing countries via an open access policy.
  • I am also a Guest Editor of a special issue called the Medicinal plants for managing HIV/AIDS in Africa: From ethnobotany to reverse pharmacology in Frontiers in Pharmacology, an open access Journal with 3.86 impact factor.

Please tell us about your past and current research work/projects.

PUBLICATIONS

Since 2007 I have been making contributions to book chapters of Plant Resources of Tropical Africa (PROTA) that are published in English and French. These handbooks are illustrated encyclopaedia of utility plant species found in Tropical Africa. They focus on plant species taxonomy, how they are used, managed and conserved.

PROTA aims to disseminate this information in low-cost handbooks (published by CTA and Backhuys Publishers in The Netherlands). Furthermore, the handbooks are used as textbooks and reading material in the teaching of plant resource use at some colleges and universities.

Between 2007 and 2013, I participated in the writing of the following six PROTA books on useful plants in Tropical Africa:

  • Vegetable oils, published in 2007
  • Timbers 1, published in 2008
  • Medicinal Plants 1, published in 2008
  • Fibres, published in 2012
  • Timbers 2, published in 2012
  • Medicinal Plants 2, published in 2013.

I also contributed detailed accounts of 20 plant species focusing on species’ taxonomy, their description, distribution, utilization and their conservation needs.

 RESEARCH PROJECTS

  • I was part of a team of researchers that worked on the Long Term monitoring of the Socio-economic, Agricultural and Environmental Impact of Ntabelanga and Laleni Dams, Eastern Cape Province (2014-2017). This is a project funded by the Water Research Commission.  As a botanist, I assessed the status of riparian vegetation and initiated long-term impact assessment of Ntabelanga and Laleni dams on riparian vegetation and other organisms within the Tsitsa River catchment area in the Eastern Cape. Permanent plots were established and evaluated regularly. Assessment of riparian zones and other ecosystems focused on changes in plant species diversity, composition, cover, functional types, degree of disturbances, etc. 
  • I am a co-investigator on a collaborative research project funded by the NRF focusing on “Toxicity screening of commonly used African herbal medicines”. This research looks at evaluating phytochemical and pharmacological properties of commonly used medicinal plants in South Africa.

 

  • I am also doing research on management of wild plants, human ecology and bio-cultural diversity. Preliminary results show that plant resources provide low-cost building materials, fuel, food supplements, herbal medicines, crafts or are used as sources of income. Based on this research, I am of the opinion that no single livelihood strategy is sufficient to support a household. Despite the immense importance and potential of these plant resources, their values are not taken into account in land-use planning.

What do you think are your most significant research accomplishments?

 

  • The Royal Horticultural Society Journal reported in 2013 that “cultivated plants” are deemed important enough to be included in the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. It is therefore, for these reasons that I continue to do research on cultivated, naturalized and invasive plant species.
  • My publication on cultivated/naturalized exotic plants in Zimbabwe “Maroyi A. 2006. A Preliminary Checklist of Naturalized and Introduced Plants in Zimbabwe. Kirkia 18: 177-247” is key and important to the flora of Zimbabwe and widely cited by researchers working on Zimbabwean flora. This catalogue of exotic plants in Zimbabwe is a critical starting point in trying to understand and initiate the management of biological invasions. It serves as a foundation for future research on plant invasions in the country. A better understanding of their establishment, spread, social and economic impacts and distributional changes over time, is vital for making informed decisions on new introductions and managing existing exotic species.
  • Over the last 20 years, I have created a database and mapping application that provides geospatial information for non-native plant species. The data is primarily intended to support the identification of problem species and infestations, thus promoting early detection and rapid response.  Additionally, the data can be used in a variety of research and modelling activities. This information is important since exotic species have become increasingly significant management problems in parks and reserves, and frequently complicate restoration projects. Research has also revealed that exotic species are an integral part of the plant resources used by many ethnic groups, and now recognized as an important component of indigenous pharmacopoeia in several countries.

RECORD-SETTING AND DISCOVERIES

Taxonomical research conducted in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe that i was involved in, led to the discovery of new records of plant species:

  • Maroyi A. 2013. Colchicaceae: A range extension and the first record of Gloriosa sessiliflora from Angola. Bothalia: and Conservation African Biodiversity 43: 67-69.
  • Maroyi A. & van der Maesen LJG. 2014. A new name for Gloriosa grandiflora (Colchicaceae) from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa). Phytotaxa 183: 119,
  • Maroyi A. 2016. Cylindropuntia fulgida (Engelm.) F.M. Knuth var. fulgida (Cactaceae) is naturalized and spreading in Zimbabwe. Bradleya 34: 24-27.
  • Maroyi A. A second species of Cylindropuntia (Engelm.) F.M.Knuth (Cactaceae), C. imbricata (Haw.) F.M.Knuth, naturalised in Zimbabwe (under review).

These newly recorded species in Angola, DRC and Zimbabwe increase our understanding of plant diversity in Southern Africa and underline the need for continued botanical inventories.

How do you ensure your research is well communicated, digested and acted on?

I communicate my research to others in their field of work through scientific journals, books, workshops, conferences and training programmes. I also use collaborations with others involved in similar research to communicate and share my work.

What has been the greatest impact of your work?

 THE RESULTS OF MY RESEARCH

  • It can be applied to areas where society needs sound and robust answers to environmental problems, impact of harvesting wild plants (e.g. over-exploitation of useful plants), sustainable agriculture and food security.
  • In 2000, I drafted recovery plans and guidelines for Warburgia salutaris (Pepperbark tree), an over-exploited plant species in Southern Africa. I am coordinating a re-introduction programme of Warburgia salutaris into home gardens using funding from the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in the UK.
  • I am working with local communities and other stakeholders including Traditional Healers to build capacity for the conservation of this species within home gardens. It is hoped that increasing the supply of sustainably cultivated Warburgia salutaris will enable the re-introduction of the species back into the wild. For re-introduction programmes involving over-exploited species to be successful, there is need to provide a balance between benefits to communities and the long-term conservation of the species. Not only must the benefits be received and valued by the local, but the linkage between the benefits and sustainable management of over-exploited species must be clear.

MAJOR LESSONS THAT CAN BE DRAWN FROM THIS RESEARCH INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:

  • Some useful plants required for community livelihoods are in decline due to man's actions. The major threats to species populations are over-exploitation and destruction of their habitats due to agriculture and extension of human settlements,
  • Local communities have a moral obligation to ensure long-term existence of useful plants like Warburgia salutaris used as herbal medicines
  • Plant conservation is directly linked to people's values and behaviour, and
  • Although many harvested plant species’ populations are resilient and have a long history of human use, they can be pushed beyond recovery through over-exploitation.
  • Therefore, the re-introduction programme of Warburgia salutaris should be fully understood, accepted and supported by local communities, herbalists, plant gatherers and vendors, if both ex situ and in situ conservation are to continue providing refuge for the pepperbark tree and long-term benefits to the local people.

 What advice would you give to Young Researchers out there?

  • Young researchers need to note that scientific research should be systematically planned before performing specific research activities.
  • Other critical stages of any research work include data collection, interpretation and evaluation of collected data. These essential steps provide the framework required by a researcher to organize and conduct his/her studies.