16 March 2022 | Story Nonsindiso Qwabe | Photo IAN VAN STRAATEN
Prof Francis Petersen (UFS), Alex Hickman (AMRF), Dr Ralph Clark (UFS), and Prof Shen Xiaomeng (UN Europe)
Prof Francis Petersen (UFS), Alex Hickman (AMRF), Dr Ralph Clark (UFS), and Prof Shen Xiaomeng (UN Europe)

Mountains matter; 60-80% of the earth’s fresh water comes from mountains, and 50% of the world’s biodiversity hotspots are in mountains. In addition, 50% of land across the world relies on mountain ecosystem services.

This is according to Prof Shen Xiaomeng, United Nations Vice-Rector for Europe, on the first day of the first-ever Southern African Mountain Conference (SAMC2022). The conference, under the theme Southern African Mountains – their value and vulnerabilities, is taking place from 14 to 17 March 2022 in the majestic Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa and Lesotho. 

“We need to go beyond national and regional boundaries to have the collaboration. We have the opportunity to create a world worth living in for ourselves and our children. We can create and co-create together by transcending boundaries,” said Prof Xiaomeng.

The conference – a collective voice for the sustainable management of Southern African mountains – brings together a network of more than 200 delegates from across the globe to discuss a wide array of interventions to ensure the preservation of the ecosystem under global change.

Dr Ralph Clark, chairperson of the SAMC2022 local organising committee and Director of the Afromontane Research Unit (ARU) on the Qwaqwa Campus, said the conference – a first for the southern region – presents an opportunity for new collaborations in transdisciplinary research.

Bringing together people from various disciplines in one space for networking and information sharing, the conference seeks to create a space for robust regional and international collaboration and comparative mountain studies with an increase in research activities, student capacity, researcher capacity, and academic outputs that feed into policy and action. 

The conference was officially opened by the Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS, Prof Francis Petersen, as well as Prof Xiaomeng.

Prof Petersen said the UFS firmly believes in getting involved with its surrounding communities and applying skills and knowledge towards making a real, practical, and positive impact in their lives. “Higher education institutions cannot afford to conduct research simply for its own sake. Our research efforts must address the needs of our surrounding communities and the wider world. Which is why, together with Teaching and Learning, and Research, the UFS – like many other South African universities – has a third core function, namely Engaged Scholarship, where we use our academic expertise with an intentional public-benefit purpose,” he said.

The programme has six parallel tracks – one of which is dedicated to postgraduate students – with about 200 papers delivered. In addition, there is a special Mountain Research Institute (MRI) session on long-term monitoring activities and associated data availability for climate change-related applications across Africa’s mountains, as well as a special UNESCO session on regional collaboration.

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