UFH - Professor Alfred Maroyi

The professorial inauguration of Professor Alfred Maroyi by Fort Hare will be remembered as much for his powerful message to use South Africa’s precious plant resources responsibly as it will the academic honour bestowed on him.

Maroyi, a lecturer in the department of botany in the faculty of science and agriculture, has been on the front lines of the effort to preserve taxa in southern Africa and educate the scientific community and public about sustainable practices.

Delivering the university’s 32nd Professorial Lecture at the Alice Campus on Tuesday afternoon, he explained that South Africa is home to six per cent of the world’s flora and, in places like the Cape Floristic Region, 69 per cent of species are endemic to the area.

Closer to home in the Succulent Karoo and Albany floristic regions, endemism stands at 40 per cent.

Maroyi described the disturbing reality of the numbers of certain plant species in the Albany region being threatened by human practices.

One species was threatened by forestry, two by medicinal harvesting and industrial action, three by rural agriculture, 15 by alien plants, 11 by urban residential development and 15 by instances of illegal collection, he said.

He cited the specific example of Warburgia salutaris, commonly known as the pepperbark tree, which is endangered in SA, Eswatini and Malawi and is extinct in the wild in Zimbabwe.

The bark – used to treat gastrointestinal problems, coughs, colds and sore throats – is sought for its medicinal properties.

UFH - Professor Alfred Maroyi

“Its population size is shrinking by the day because of the decline in quality of habitat. It is also over-collected,” he said.

“Ringbarking destroys the trees, and they will not survive because of the harvesting procedures used.”

For more than two decades Maroyi has worked tirelessly to protect the pepperbark. He has published a paper recommending that the species be conserved both in and outside its habitat.

Maroyi has also called for a multidisciplinary approach to conservation, appealed for long-term financial and political support and encouraged the active involvement of resource users in planning and management of populations.

He has also pushed for the pepperbark to be introduced in home gardens.

Furthermore, the professor is part of Team Warburgia, a working group that host propagation, awareness and distribution workshops. One of those involved is a farmer who has donated thousands of seeds for ex-situ conservation efforts.

“Plant diversity is the natural capital from which local communities make regular withdrawals. However, loss of biodiversity affects the poorest of the poor first while the rich are buffered from its immediate effects,” he said.

To make inroads against endangerment of species, it is essential that the extent of over-exploitation is understood and sustainable harvesting practices adopted.

Ecological and indigenous knowledge as well as recognising local peoples’ rights to land resources are paramount.

“Let’s control over-exploitation, let’s control invasive alien species and climate change. Let’s reduce the CO² that’s coming from our vehicles. Let’s plant trees in our gardens.”

Following his lecture, Maroyi was bestowed his full professorship by Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu.

“We wish Professor Maroyi a productive research and academic career, particularly in his field of botany,” the VC said.

“This certificate [of professorship] is a symbol that he has reached the apex of his academic career. Full professorship is what we all hope to achieve.”

Dr Nthabiseng Taole-Mjimba, Vice-Chancellor: Research, Partnerships and Innovation at Fort Hare, congratulated Maroyi on his achievement and thanked him for his “powerful and inspiring” lecture.

“As a university we need to strengthen our research profile and you have been rated at C2 level, something we want to applaud you for. We want to support you to reach great heights.”

Maroyi holds a BSc Honours in bioscience and a Master’s and PhD in botany.

He has previously lectured at the universities of Limpopo and Namibia and has published more than 200 peer-reviewed articles as well as chapters in 30 books.

In addition, he has contributed 73 research output units at Fort Hare.