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Interview with 2016 DEB Tony Cunningham

By Sandra Bogdanova

Is there a better way to end this year than by listening to some lifetime wisdom? This time it is our Distinguished Economic Botanist (DEB) of 2016 – Anthony (Tony) Cunningham. He is an internationally known ethnobotanist from who has seamlessly linked his work at the interface between nature and culture with a successful fine art practice. A true source of inspiration for every ethnobotanist.

For over 36 years, Tony’s research and art have been influenced by the power of place, the beauty of nature and the wisdom of local people in the remote areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Pacific. His books “Applied Ethnobotany” (2001) and “African Basketry, Grassroots Art from southern Africa” (2006,) along with his on-going work with Southeast Asian textile weavers, are a testament to his respect for cultural knowledge and the power of place on his work.

  1. What led you to the world of ethnobotany? How did it all begin?

Good question. All SEB members have wonderful “origin stories” to tell. Enough for a book…which would be like a strong rope of woven threads, for many “how did it all begin” stories have common threads. In my case, three stimuli were a catalyst. First, my grandfather, a kind man and Zulu linguist, who worked in remote areas and had respect for all people, across all cultures. Second, my parents: a father, an artist and architect who loved African art and environment and a mother who love plants and gardening. Then thirdly, what brought these components together was a book on my grandfathers shelf: Mairn Hulme’s 1954 Wild Flowers of Natal, which featured most of the plants in the area I grew up, giving their Zulu names and uses. So those “footprints” from other people were the start of a trail I have followed all my life, despite apartheid, no jobs for ethnobotanists, and, at the time, no detailed “how to do it” ethnobotany methods manuals.

 

  1. Could you describe a typical day at work?

I am the worst person to ask that question, as I don’t have a “typical day at work.” Or a “typical day” depends where I am working. Which might be teaching in Papua New Guinea, doing fieldwork with Indonesian colleagues in eastern Indonesia (I go there in three days time), or in Africa, where I recently completed a study on illegal logging and ripple effects onto ivory poaching, or my home office in Fremantle, Australia, where I currently live, or from my home in South Africa. It is in southern Africa where I have my strongest “sense of place” and where I will return in three years time. Simply put, I haven’t had a “real job” since 1984, when I finished my PhD. All the rest of my life has been working on “soft grants.” Or none. But I get up really early, work long hours, with the common threads are that I don’t have TV at all (which saves a great deal of time), nor Facebook or Twitter. If the weather is bad and I am at home, I deal priority issues first (I make lists). If the weather is fine I go out fishing from a sea kayak as the sun rises, then have breakfast, make an espresso, and start my day….

 

  1. You’ve encountered cultures around the world. How have you chosen where to settle and down the roots?

I haven’t settled yet. But I know where I want to be. At the moment, I think of myself as a migrant worker away from my African home, to which I will return. Yet I feel comfortable in many parts of the world, with which I have been privileged to build up close connections with wonderful people and places over many years of collaborative work: India (particularly Tamil Nadu); China (especially Yunnan and Sichuan); Western Highlands, Papua New Guinea; and then, most of all, East and southern Africa. So as my art website indicates, I think of myself as “Gondwanan” (see: www. tonysartandnature.com)

 

  1. What can you say about the role of local communities for ethnobotany?

This is a complex question, which needs more space to answer. But the close connections between place, plants, and culture are not only important in terms of “roots” and the past, but also “shoots” and the future. Local knowledge, which is eroding in many places, is so important at many levels, including adaptation to climate change.

 

  1. Can you describe your academic and/or professional philosophy?

While I wear an “academic hat,” trying, as a person not on any salary, to keep publishing (which is an important responsibility for all of us). I am an “applied problem solver” by nature, who having seen the damage done by academia chopping up the integrated, multi-disciplinary real world into single disciplinary themes, has tried to do transdisciplinary work as much as possible. Mainly applied to real world issues: conflicts between people and conservation areas, for example.

 

  1. You’ve had a long and successful career—do you have any general life and/or professional advice for young and aspiring ethnobotanists?

If you love learning new things and intellectual challenges, then ethnobotany (or better still ethnoecology) are the fields for you. This is an incredibly exciting time for ethnobotanists and ethnoecologists. New techniques (such as genomics and accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating) offer amazing opportunities for linking with older methods and for research collaborations. Never be satisfied that you know enough. There is always more to learn. Try to save time by giving up time-wasting things, so you can “go down the rabbit hole” following information trails of credible, peer reviewed research that connects to what you do. Try to be the best at what you do. And expect hardship. Expect to be knocked back. But be determined, resilient, professional, and above all, passionate. For that is what will get you through thirsty, sweating places with biting flies or boring bureaucracy.

 

  1. Is there a study or collaboration that you wish you could find time to work on (past or present)?

I wish I had opportunities to teach more, particularly if there was a field course component. I love teaching at all levels, from the village level in southern Africa to teaching well-established Papua New Guinean researchers and scholars. But I am rarely paid to teach and without a salary, cannot afford to do so pro bono very often. So if there are visiting scholar grants out there, let me know!

 

  1. What do you read or study in your free time?

I am currently reading two thoroughly enjoyable books. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (by Yuval Noah Harari) and The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humbolt, Lost Hero of Modern Science (by Andrea Wulf). But some days, I am tired of reading. So that is where fishing (good weather) or watching a movie (most recently “Brooklyn” about Ireland, choices, and sense of place) are something I do. One can only read so much…then I need a break!

 

  1. We have noticed a decline in membership, especially with students in the past years. Do you have any advice for reversing this trend?

This is an unfortunate trend. And it can be reversed. SEB has been pro-active at asking established scientists to mentor younger SEB members on chosen themes. “Teaching Tuesday” and the workshop that I was part of at the previous SEB meeting in South Africa was great fun. Probably for me most of all, meeting such super-smart, keen young people who will go on to do great things. Perhaps a variety of short thematic field trips that were low cost and affordable after or before SEB meetings are an option. Or universities and SEB trying to get endowments or grants for guest teachers within established courses. Enthusiasm is infectious. Particularly in a field situation, where people can experience plants through taste, touch, and through the stomach! That can reverse the trend.

 

  1. While you are an inspiration in our field and a legend in your own right, you have also worked with and been friends with many legendary ethnobotanists across continents. Do you have any stories or wisdom from working in that environment that you could share with our members?

Always be open to new ideas. Grasp opportunities and take risks. Trust scientific methods and always think creatively. In some cases, what we thought was rock solid information turns out to crumble like sand. Be skeptical of “legends.” We are all human. And fallible. I have seen some “legends” behave very badly in local community situations. And there is no excuse for that.

 

  1. What is the most recent direction you have taken in your career, and why?

I have recently renewed my work as a fine art print maker. I studied etching in the early 1980s, moved very heavy etching press around for years, within Africa and Australia. But the technique is slow and less versatile for me. So I have been using a different method of doing Giclée prints, with the designs now expanded to textiles. My most recent exhibition was 10 – 28 February 2016 at Kidogo gallery in Fremantle, Australia and went very well. I don’t have Facebook, but the gallery does  http://www.facebook.com/pages/KidogoArthouse-Fremantle/80489903147.

 

  1. What do you see as your legacy?

On the ethnoecological (and ethnobotanical) science side, my legacy is in two parts: publications and people. Publications (such as my book Applied Ethnobotany: People, Wild Plant Use and Conservation (2001, Earthscan), which is published in Chinese, Spanish, and English) have been useful, I think. But can be updated and improved. Ideally, “living documents” in the form of online, easily updated resources would be best. But most of all my (and I think as scientists, our) most powerful legacy is through the people we work with, inspire, and who also inspire us. Particularly young people. That is the SEB opportunity. And the challenge.

 

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Tony Cunningham at his Fine Art exhibition at Kidogo, 2016

The story first published in the Spring 2016 issue of Plants and People, the Newsletter of the Society for Economic Botany. Find it here.

 

Sandra Bogdanova is a Student Representative to the SEB Council 2015-2017 . She holds a BA in Archaeology from Vilnius University, MA degree in Indigenous studies from UiT the Arctic University of Norway. Over the years, she has been working on projects in Norway, Finland, Lithuania, China and India that use community-based research approach, combine environmental education, local plant knowledge, and heritage food. Currently working with herbal medicine she is also an independent scholar, practitioner and a member of British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). You can follow her research and activities here: https://twitter.com/SandraBogdanova

$5,000 research grant, training and more

APPLICATION DEADLINE: Jan 13, 2017

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Pittsburgh, PA) is currently accepting proposals for its 2017 Botany in Action Fellowship program, which fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach.

Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides each Fellow with:

1) $5,000 for use towards research-related expenses at sites in the US or abroad; 2) an all-expenses paid trip to Phipps Conservatory to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to translate and communicate his or her research to non-scientific, public audiences through written, visual and/or oral means; and 3) subsequent opportunities to connect his or her research with the public through programs, exhibits, and other outreach venues.

BIA Fellowship research priorities (listed in no particular order):*

§  Ethnobotany, with special interest in plant use for physical and/or psychological well-being;

§  Diversity and conservation, particularly in regional (southwest Pennsylvania and tri-state area) and tropical forests;

§  Landscape and brownfield restoration, particularly in plant-based ecosystem services; Sustainable landscapes;

§  Interdisciplinary plant-based research at the intersection of human and environmental health.

*For 2017, special consideration will be given to research in the following areas (listed in no particular order):

§  Ethnobotany and/or plant-based conservation in central Cuba or the surrounding islands;

§  Plant-based ecosystem services for landscape and brownfield restoration;  

§  Sustainable landscapes in the US, particularly applicable to the southwest Pennsylvania and tri-state area.

§  Interdisciplinary plant-based research at the intersection of human and environmental health.

 

Learn more about Phipps, the BIA fellowship program, and how to apply

https://phipps.conservatory. org/green-innovation/for-the- world/botany-in-action/call- for-proposals

Maria Wheeler-Dubas, Ph.D.

Science Education and Research Outreach Coordinator

mwheeler-dubas@phipps. conservatory.org

Desk: 412-622-6915 x3220

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Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213
phipps.conservatory.org
facebook.com/ phippsconservatory

twitter.com/phippsnews

SEB 2016 Conference and Botany in Action Fellowship

By Chelsie Romulo

This summer I attended the Society’s conference in Kentucky as a student member of SEB. This is my second SEB conference as I also attended the 2014 meeting in Cherokee NC. This summer was an exciting meeting for me because in 2014 I presented a concept poster of my dissertation proposal and this year I was able to present the first results of my research. Both of these meetings have been wonderfully productive academically as well as socially and I’ve found most SEB members very welcoming and encouraging to students and early career researchers. In

of attendants and the focus of Society. With a smaller group, everyone was able to fit on the grounds at Pine Mountain Settlement School, allowing us all to eat together and enjoy after-hours events such as the bonfire

experience of each and every session. This provided ample discussion topics and also encourages us to reach out beyond our research focus. I believe it is critically important for us to actively learn about work outside our specific field, which will allow for interesting collaborations and interpretation of our own studies.

The theme for this year’s meeting, Resilience in the Face of Resource Extraction, was the perfect place to highlight my work on community-based conservation of a non-timber forest product in the Peruvian Amazon. But although my work is conducted in the tropical rainforest, it was great to see how other researchers address similar situations and answer

fact, at the first SEB conference, I attended I met another researcher who studies the focal species of my dissertation and we have a paper together currently in review!

The SEB meeting is very different than other conferences I attend, because of the number

and bourbon tasting. These casual interactions have really helped me approach and develop relationships with more established researchers and allow for continued conversations throughout the conference week. There was also only one session running at a time resulting in all attendees having the shared similar questions in other contexts. I also learned a lot, especially about ethnobotanical work in the Appalachia region near where I live in Virginia.

In this article, I would also like to highlight a fantastic fellowship that may be of interest to other SEB student members. This is my 3rd year as a Botany in Action Fellow with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. The BIA Fellowship has supported most of my dissertation research and also provided me with support and experience conducting outreach and education through their annual Science Engagement Week. For the Science Engagement Week, Phipps brings all 6 Fellows to Pittsburgh for a series of workshops related to outreach and engagement, ranging from speaking to different audiences, graphic design, creating information tables and signs, to scientific illustration. These topics have proven invaluable to much of my work and have not been covered in the traditional science programs I have been in for most of my academic career. In addition to the workshops, we also get to practice our new skills by conducting formal presentations to school groups and the public and creating educational materials for Phipps displays including a scientist display, research blog posts, and radio interviews. 

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SEB student members Aurélie Jacquet and Chelsie Romulo participating in a “Meet the Scientist” event during the 2014 Science Engagement Week as part of the Botany in Action Fellowship by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

 

For all the SEB students, I definitely encourage you to attend the annual meetings and apply for the Botany in Action Fellowship if it is a good fit for your research.

For more information about Botany in Action (Applications due in January) : https://phipps.conservatory.org/green-innovation/for-the-world/botany-in-action

The story first published in the Fall 2016 issue of Plants and People, the Newsletter of the Society for Economic Botany. Find it here.

 

Chelsie Romulo is a student member of Society for Economic Botany,  PhD Candidate at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA Botany in Action Fellow at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, PA. You can follow her research and activities here: cromulo.wordpress.com 

JOB OFFER — IUCN Programme Officer for Medicinal Plants (TRAFFIC)

 

TRAFFIC is a joint program between the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). Founded in 1976, it exists as a specialist group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, and works to ensure that trade in wild animals and plants is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC actively monitors and investigates wildlife trade and provides information to diverse audiences worldwide as a basis for effective conservation policies and programs.

TRAFFIC International is seeking a Medicinal Plants officer for a fixed-term position based in Budapest, Hungry. The Medicinal Plants Officer will be responsible for the implementation of TRAFFIC projects relating to the use of and trade in MAPs in the European region, including Project Management for the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme project Local Economy, demographic change and Nature conservation in the Danube Region (LENA) – and assist in the development of TRAFFIC programme in Europe, working in close collaboration with the TRAFFIC network and TRAFFIC’s partners WWF and IUCN.

 

PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Oversees the implementation of the transnational activities of the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme project ‘LENA – Local Economy, demographic change and Nature conservation in the Danube Region’ implemented in Danube countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia) in co-operation with project partners;
  • Conducts ’LENA’ project activities and ensures project reporting as required in a capacity of Project Manager for the whole duration of the project;
  • Supports the development of TRAFFIC’s work on MAPs in Europe, particularly in Central- and South-Eastern Europe, through fundraising, development of project concepts and funding proposals, liaison with potential donors and partners, etc;
  • Supports TRAFFIC’s advocacy and communication activities related to MAPs in Europe, including maintenance and further development of the “Why Go Wild” website;
  • Participates and contributes to the team work of the TRAFFIC’s workstream supporting actions to enhance benefits from sustainable and legal wildlife trade;
  • Liaises with the Secretariat of the FairWild Foundation to promote the FairWild Standard in Europe and support its implementation by MAPs stakeholders;
  • Communicates the outcomes of MAP activities in Europe to TRAFFIC Network and externally;
  • Other tasks related to TRAFFIC’s work on MAPs in Europe as agreed with the TRAFFIC Regional Director for Europe;
  • Responds to general enquiries that are directed to TRAFFIC, and represents TRAFFIC in media events as appropriate;
  • Communicates the nature and results of the work that TRAFFIC undertakes and represents TRAFFIC at designated international meetings and conferences, and reports on these meetings;
  • Liaises with relevant WWF and IUCN programmes and regional/national offices in Europe programme and keeps up-to-date and informed about activities related to wildlife conservation, trade and utilisation within Europe and maintains good working relationships with the European Commission, the CITES and CBD Secretariats, WWF, IUCN, governmental and intergovernmental agencies in Europe, and relevant NGOs;
  • Maintains links and good working relationships with WWF, IUCN, governmental and intergovernmental agencies, and relevant NGOs.

 

REQUIREMENTS

  • Master’s degree or similar qualification in ecology, natural resources management, biological/environmental sciences, agriculture, or similar. Candidates with a background in business/economics/international development, with a specialism in environment, will also be considered;
  • Experience with the private sector (non-timber forest products, organic products, herbal and botanical products, labelling schemes) and good knowledge of the medicinal plants sector and trade in the region highly desirable;
  • Significant practical experience in international wildlife conservation preferably with government or an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) / Inter-governmental Organisation (IGO) or with MAPs industry;
  • At least 3 years of project management experience related to medicinal plant trade, natural resource management or similar;
  • Ability to work under pressure and to set own work priorities as appropriate and a capacity to meet deadlines;
  • Familiar with the goals and operation of TRAFFIC;
  • Fluency in spoken and written English is a must; fluency in Hungarian and/or German with additional languages of the LENA countries (Bulgarian, Serbian, Slovenian), a distinct advantage.
  • Strong communication, analytical and presentation skills, including strong writing abilities in the English language; multi-media communications experience an asset;
  • An ability to work co-operatively as part of a small team with strong inter-personal skills and an ability to work in different cultural contexts;
  • Willing and able to travel.

Must be eligible to work in the EU/Hungary.

For more information on how to apply, please see the IUCN-HRMS Portal here.

Chatham Fellowship 2017

The Garden Club of America’s Anne S. Chatham Fellowship in Medicinal Botany provides at least one grant award of $4,500 annually to support research related to medicinal plants. An important aspect of the award is that it is intended to enable a student to pursue an avenue of research that might otherwise prove closed. Accordingly, the funds may be used to cover direct costs associated with travel, field studies, or laboratory research. However, fellowship funds may not cover indirect costs, overhead, or student stipends and should not be used to pay for lab space or supplies normally provided by universities.

Eligible candidates include students in any field of specialty who are currently enrolled in PhD programs at recognized universities and recent graduates who have received their degrees in the last five years. The fellowship is administered by the Missouri Botanical Garden. Fellowship recipients will be selected by a panel of botanists with expertise in economic botany or ethnobotany, subject to approval by the Garden Club of America Scholarship Committee.

Please submit the following:

  • a brief application letter
  • an abstract of 200 words or less
  • a one- to two-page research proposal, set in 12 pt type, giving the project’s background and purpose and describing activities to be conducted (proposals will be treated as confidential; proposals longer than two pages will be considered ineligible)
  • a one-page budget that explains how funds would be used
  • a current curriculum vitae
  • for graduate students, a letter from a major advisor certifying enrollment in a PhD program
  • copies of permits for field work or studies including animals, research clearances, and permission from governmental agencies for foreign research (if permits are being applied for but have not yet been obtained, please ensure that the proposal explains the situation)

Proposals must be received by January 31.

Mail applications to:

Dr. Wendy Applequist
Missouri Botanical Garden
P.O. Box 299
Saint Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA

Additional information may be obtained by contacting Dr. Applequist at the address above or by email at wendy.applequist@mobot.org

Photo credits (left to right): (1) Aspalathus linearis L. Rooibos tea by Sandra Bogdanova South Africa 2015 ; (2) Aspalathus linearis L. Rooibos roots by Sandra Bogdanova, South Africa 2015