Rachel Wynberg

Rachel Wynberg

DST/NRF Bio-Economy Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences

+27 21 650 2866
Room 2.25

Research Gate


I began my research journey as a marine biologist, but despite my passion for this work, became frustrated with its lack of a social perspective and human dimension. My long-held concern for environmental issues led me to pursue an environmental career at the time of the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where I was one of a handful of South Africans participating. The heady years in the 1990s of a post-apartheid South Africa drew me to initiatives both to help the newly elected democratic government to transform land, biodiversity and environmental policies, and to strengthen the voice of civil society. I developed a keen research interest in biodiversity policy and its interface with social justice and became strongly involved in the revisioning of biodiversity laws and policies, initially in South Africa, and later elsewhere in the world.

Growing attention to the economic potential of biodiversity and the so-called “bio-economy” has led me increasingly to question the social and environmental implications of these approaches. My research has thus evolved to focus on bio-politics, the commercialization and trade of biodiversity, access and benefit sharing, and wider questions about governance, livelihoods, rights to resources and traditional knowledge. These are also central foci of the Chair.

With a background in the natural and social sciences, I have a strong interest in interdisciplinarity and policy engagement across the humanities, arts and sciences. Bridging the gap between the theoretical dimensions of academia and the real world of environmental, social inequality and poverty challenges remains a central passion and also characterises my shifting role as an academic, policy advisor and activist.

Over the past twenty years I have advised governments, civil society organisations and international agencies on biodiversity issues and continue to be actively involved with NGOs in southern Africa, serving on the Boards of Biowatch South Africa, Environmental Monitoring Group, and PhytoTrade Africa. I am also a member of the Expert Committee for the United Kingdom government’s Darwin Initiative.


PhD Environmental Science, University of Strathclyde
MPhil Environmental Science, University of Cape Town
MSc Marine Biology, University of Cape Town
BSc Honours Zoology, University of Cape Town

Rachel Wynberg: Publications since 2000


Book Chapters

Journal Articles

Technical Reports & Discussion Papers

Policy Briefs & Popular Publications