National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Prof Paxie Chirwa

For his contribution, centred on people, to future forestry development in South Africa and training future foresters

On a long drive from Cape Town to his birthplace in Malawi, Prof Paxie Chirwa can’t help but notice just how much plant life has been lost.

“This loss is not from natural calamities. It’s mostly due to human impact,” he says. “So to me, the idea is to understand why it is so, and how we can actually help people use this resource sustainably.”

As the chair and director of the Forest Postgraduate Programme at University of Pretoria (UP), he believes in a participatory approach to protecting forests.

He says previously, the focus was heavily on regulation for conservation. “Don’t touch this, don’t do that. But now, I think there’s a turn around — if you want to improve conservation, you have to bring people in at the centre of it all,” says Chirwa.

“In the past when I did research it was very much that you go and talk to the trees, so to speak,” he says. Scientists would study the ecology, measuring tree responses and so on, but they did not always engage communities or incorporate their indigenous knowledge about an area.

He says participatory management and adaptive resource management means that forestry researchers must work together with policy regulators, community leaders, scientists and other forestry professionals to prolong resources.

Chirwa has had a strong hand in training many of these forestry professionals. 

He says the growing University of Pretoria programme has attracted several students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Besides contributing knowledge to the field as students, many have taken up management positions or joined industry. Others have taken their learnings to international universities as career academics.

Under Chirwa’s leadership, the programme continues to work on public-private partnership models to engage communities in sustainable development, particularly in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

He says conserving natural resources is in some cases directly linked to climate change mitigation, and that communities can also benefit financially from conservation activities.

Prof Paxie Chirwa won the Management Award for his outstanding contribution through management of science, engineering, technology and innovation and related activities over the last 5 to 10 years.
— ScienceLink

Read the special Mail & Guardian supplement about all the NSTF-South32 Award winners.

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