The African Biodiversity Challenge set to launch with four countries
21 August 2017
We are excited to announce that teams from four countries will participate in the African Biodiversity Challenge: Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi and Namibia. Congratulations to these project teams! The African Biodiversity Challenge is funded through a grant from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation and seeks to build capacity in biodiversity informatics and provide incentives for these countries to mobilise as much national biodiversity data of strategic importance as possible through an adjudicated competition that evaluates quantity, quality and fitness for use. To achieve this, these countries will develop cohesive biodiversity informatics networks and strategies in support of their sustainable development agenda. These networks will be supported in the long-term through SANBI assisting in finding funders for spin-off projects, which will sustain the momentum of the work and help establish regional communities of practice for biodiversity informatics. Each country’s project is summarised briefly below:
- Team Rwanda: led by the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management, University of Rwanda and supported by the Albertine Rift Conservation Society and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority. The team intends to mobilise freshwater biodiversity data hosted by all three institutions, with the aim of incorporating the data into a State of Freshwater Biodiversity Report to be used in both national reports and conservation strategies.
- Team Ghana: led by Conservation Alliance and supported by the Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, A Rocha and the Ghana Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) node at the University of Ghana. The team will focus on mobilising biodiversity data from Community Resource Management Areas (CREMAs) to help assess the effectiveness of this policy in conserving biodiversity. This project has potential to interlink with the GEF-funded Connect project (coordinated by UNEP-WCMC), which is focussing on mainstreaming conservation into decision-making.
- Team Malawi: led by the Museums of Malawi and supported by the National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens, the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi and the national GBIF node at the National Commission for Science and Technology. The project team seeks to galvanise biodiversity data mobilisation in the country by digitising specimen collections, as well as data from vegetation survey reports, local journals and environmental impact assessments. The team will work with Environmental Affairs Department to identify relevant information products for the data, such as State of Environment Reports.
- Team Namibia: led by the Directorate of Scientific Services, Ministry of Environment and Tourism and supported by the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape (Namibrand Nature Reserve). The team seeks to mobilise biodiversity data contained in wildlife use and trade permits dating back to 1975 as well as radio-tracking data from collared animals to help better inform and manage the wildlife economy. The project has important learning opportunities for the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa who are similarly attempting to establish an online wildlife permitting system.
The Judging Panel was honoured to review and choose between so many high-quality applications, which were all worthy of supporting for their conservation contribution. From 44 initial applications spanning 13 countries, 10 country-level proposals were invited. In this phase, cooperation between multiple partners was emphasised to stimulate the development and self-organisation of a biodiversity network to mobilise the data. The selected projects are an exciting and diverse mix of biodiversity informatics networks focussing on a wide array of datasets with strategic value for sustainable development and conservation implementation. All project teams have expressed motivation to build biodiversity information facilities in their countries, with strong potential for long-term partnerships to develop a critical mass of biodiversity informatics capacity.
The project will officially commence at the inception meeting, which will be held in Kigali, Rwanda on the 30th and 31st of August. All project teams will convene at this meeting to share their projects in a learning environment and to focus on refining the project strategies, work plans and broader biodiversity informatics vision for their countries. The inception meeting will conclude with an excursion to the Gorilla Naming Ceremony (Kwita Izina), a Rwandan tradition, to be held on the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, which will reiterate the importance of monitoring and mobilising biodiversity data for the benefit of all stakeholders.
The African Biodiversity Challenge: expressions of interest reveal motivated mobilisers!
24 May 2017
The African Biodiversity Challenge is off with a bang, with 44 expressions of interest received from 13 countries. This has exceeded our expectations and represents a 15% return rate on the invitations across countries and institutions. The competition is distinct from other funding mechanisms because prize money is awarded at the end of the project with project teams supporting the data mobilisation activities independently. The reason for this is due to our long-term goal to support self-sustaining biodiversity informatics networks that are interdependent, cooperative and functional. The high number of applications received thus reflects the strong desire for conducting biodiversity informatics work despite capacity and logistical barriers.
The applications were generally of very high-quality, with applicants understanding the aims of the competition, identifying critical target datasets for mobilisation and pinpointing specific national policies in which the data could be mainstreamed. Many of the projects were hugely innovative and interdisciplinary, ranging from informing zoonotic disease transmission policy from wildlife faecal samples to using Lepidoptera data as indicator species for conservation and agriculture. This is hugely encouraging for biodiversity conservation on the continent.
While we would like to support all applicants, this inaugural launch of the project seeks to support project teams from three countries. The Steering Committee approved 26 applications to proceed to the second round. On the 8th of May, the approved applicants from 10 countries were invited to submit full proposals. Given the project’s focus on network building, we requested that the applicants work together to combine elements of their individual applications into a unified full proposal (but also provided the option to provide full proposals independently). Larger consortia (comprised of diverse partners) are more likely to perform better in the competition due to the increased likelihood of mobilising more policy-relevant data. Again, initial responses from the countries have been encouraging, with several confirming their intention to form consortia and submit a joint proposal. We look forward to finalising the three countries to participate in the ABC competition.