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The next challenge: Broadening SAEON’s support base

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The Department of Environmental Affairs has appointed SAEON as the national coordinator for the development of the Nairobi Clearing House Mechanism.
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SAEON recently participated in a meeting of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to discuss the development of a Forestry Monitoring Programme.
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“SAEON is about to embark on a series of bilateral meetings with key departments. We hope to obtain specific and funded mandates from those departments in terms of SAEON’s core competency - long-term observations (monitoring) and research of environmental change.” – Johan Pauw
- Johan Pauw, Managing Director, SAEON

 

With the establishment of the Arid Lands and Grassland-Forest-Wetland Nodes in the beginning of this year, we were able to complete the full set of nodes that the SAEON Advisory Board requested us to implement. This brings us to the next organisational challenge - namely to broaden SAEON’s support base.

Political buy-in

Already there has been political buy-in by departments such as Environmental Affairs and Water Affairs. The former Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, for instance in its 2004 National Action Programme for Combating Land Degradation to Alleviate Poverty (paragraph 15.7.6) explicitly proclaims the critical role that SAEON should play in establishing sites for long-term monitoring, and in conducting research on monitoring methodologies. By invitation SAEON has also been involved in national projects funded by the Department of Environmental Affairs including the recently finalised Second National Communication on Climate Change.

Furthermore, SAEON’s Egagasini Node is hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs, which represents a significant commitment to SAEON (inclusive of in-kind support). SAEON attended the first meeting of the next National State of Environment Reporting process in 2010 by invitation, and some of SAEON’s data will inform the report. The former Marine and Coastal Management branch of the department appointed SAEON as the national coordinator for the development of the Nairobi Clearing House Mechanism and is partnering with SAEON (and others) on the South African Data Centre for Oceanography.

If these collaborations come to fruition, they will deliver immense value to South African society.

SAEON, the University of Cape Town and the South African National Antarctic Programme has co-funded the deployment of two Argo floats in the Southern Ocean, a first for Africa. Three agencies of the Department of Environmental Affairs, i.e. the South African National Biodiversity Institute (host of SAEON Fynbos Node), South African Weather Service (member of SAEON's former Technical Steering Committee) and South African National Parks (host of both the SAEON Ndlovu and Arid Lands nodes), are key partners in SAEON and provide significant in-kind support.

With respect to the Department of Water Affairs, there are bilateral meetings that take place at strategic level on issues of common interest, and minutes of such meetings are available. One such issue is the resuscitation of catchment monitoring programmes. The Department facilitated the transfer of the Jonkershoek Catchment Monitoring Programme from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to SAEON and has also been involved in drawing up operational plans to this effect.

SAEON has worked with the CSIR, Department of Agriculture and Department of Mineral Development at the different stages in the development of the Collaborative Geographic Information Systems (CoGIS). By invitation SAEON recently participated in a meeting of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to discuss the development of a Forestry Monitoring Programme.

Recently, SAEON staff participated, again by invitation, in consultative meetings of the Department of Land Affairs on the development of a Land-use Classification System. Several provincial and network-level inputs have been made by SAEON over the years on a range of relevant topics.

Departmental input into SAEON's strategic roll-out

All the key departments are represented on the SAEON Advisory Board and have been represented on the SAEON Technical Steering Committee where the valuable contributions on behalf of their respective departments set the direction for SAEON’s roll-out. The fact that this has not so far translated into massive injections of funds from these departments into SAEON apparently has to do with internal departmental budgeting procedures and mandate interpretations outside the sphere of SAEON’s influence, but is in no way indicative of lack of recognition of SAEON’s role and significance.

Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect departments to ‘donate’ funds to SAEON which really functions under the science and technology mandate. Although science and technology cross-cuts other mandates, it does not have prominence in the budget allocations of those other departments.

Bilateral meetings

SAEON will therefore embark on a series of bilateral meetings with key departments. We hope to obtain specific and funded mandates from those departments in terms of SAEON’s core competency, which is long-term observations (monitoring) and research of environmental change. We believe this would place SAEON in a good position to offer specific environmental services to those departments in order to assist them to achieve their own mandates. This could include not only ongoing environmental observations but also data management and information systems. The latter is already under discussion with the Department of Water Affairs, the Water Research Commission, inclusive of the River Health Programme and the former Computing Centre for Water Research (CCWR).

If these collaborations come to fruition, they will deliver immense value to South African society.

 
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