This research theme is focused on governance, rights and the bio-economy and incorporates within it investigations of governance approaches in southern Africa that

  • strengthen the rights of custodians of biodiversity and traditional knowledge holders,
  • facilitate implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol, and
  • stimulate environmentally sustainable and socially just approaches in the bio-economy.

Research is focused on investigating customary systems of governance for resource use and conservation, and influences of changing patterns of use, trade and commercialisation on these systems; analysing the interface between customary and statutory governance systems and how these plural legal systems have impacted upon sustainable resource use; and exploring the effectiveness and impacts of implementing ABS policies and laws on biodiversity custodians, traditional knowledge holders and the biological resource itself.

Research also considers approaches towards the recognition and protection of traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity, and their relationship to western systems of intellectual property protection such as patents and plant breeders’ rights.

A second stream of research within this research theme investigates the so-called innovation chasm between research results, commercialisation and socio-economic outcomes, well recognised as a constraint towards achieving significant outcomes of the bio-economy. This includes analyses of existing laws and policies that impede effective commercialisation and socio-economic development, as well as a focus on the emergence of new regulatory regimes for ABS, their entanglement with existing systems to govern and regulate biodiversity use, and the challenges faced by industry and researchers in attempting to comply with new legal requirements. Although much-needed legal frameworks have been introduced to counter ‘biopiracy’, requiring prior informed consent to be obtained from resource owners and traditional knowledge holders, and benefits to be shared equitably, the scholarly terrain remains messy and conceptually weak. This research activity seeks to bring greater conceptual clarity and guidance on these issues and to identify obstacles that prevent effective implementation of the Nagoya Protocol’s objectives.

Current research projects


Witness Kozanayi: Customary governance of baobab in Zimbabwe

Devil's Claw flower

Jessica Lavelle: The interplay between local governance and access to non-timber forest products – a case study on Harpagophytum spp. (devil’s claw) in Namibia


Philile Mbatha: The influence of multiple governance systems on coastal livelihood strategies – the case of Kosi Bay