22 May 2013

A STROLL WITH GAMELIHLE SIBANDA (For International Day For Biodiversity)

Photo Source: Gamelihle Sibanda

Being a Civil engineer with an MBA, and also a Certified Biomimicry Professional—Gamelihle embodies diversity.

Gama’s work with the United Nations had taken him to over 12 Countries, which means he has seen a lot of diverse ecosystems in different regions of the world.

Recently he was even on Aljazeera’s "South to North’’ to discuss his ideas on Biomimicry and sustainability. I’m really honoured Strolling with Gama for International Day for Biodiversity. Well, here’s the Stroll;

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for making out time to have this stroll with me.
You're a very unique person, and your versatility is displayed in you being a civil engineer, having an MBA, and at the same time being a certified Biomimicry Professional. Did you actually plan to do all this from Childhood?

Gama: When I was a boy my plan was to fulfil my father’s wish to be either a doctor or a pilot.Each time an aeroplane passed over our village my father would remind me that one day I would be the one piloting it. I liked tinkering with things and waking up to chase my dreams. It soon became clear that if I became a doctor I was not going to tinker with ill people the way I wanted. Secondly, being a pilot would mean following specific aviation procedures without much room for creativity unless, perhaps, I flew a fighter plane. Civil engineering offered me a platform to apply my mind and work within rules rather than to rules. As time went by I realised people who understand management and finance have the final say on most decisions, so I went to business school.
I was born in nature and then spent about 20 years going to school getting uneducated about nature and indigenous knowledge. A few years ago I was reconnected to nature. My rekindled interest in nature led me to Biomimicry, the conscious emulation of nature’s creative genius to solve human challenges. I was blown away by how one could learn strategies that organisms such as plants, insects, and animals have been testing and refining over the past 3.8 billion years and apply the same in disciplines such as business, medicine, design and engineering. I invested  2 years of post-graduate learning and immersed myself in 7 biomes of the world learning from ecosystems ranging from desert, oceans to the Costa Rican tropical rain forest.
Now, I have integrated my knowledge in engineering, business and biomimicry and am able to contribute to solution of big problems facing humankind.

Ebenezar: As an Online United Nations Volunteer, I get really happy when I meet people that also work with the UN. Tell me more about your work with the United Nations.

Gama: My contribution to the efforts of the UN spans a cumulative period of about 15 years working in more than 12 countries invarious capacities; liaising with Governments, Infrastructure Authorities, Employers’ Organizations, Unions, Donors, United Nations Agencies, Universities, Consultants, Contractors and Communities on the policy, financing, feasibility, research, design, training and implementation of infrastructure and environmental projects in both rural and urban environments.

My specialty is employment intensive infrastructure development. My most challenging and most rewarding assignment was in Somalia, where I was part of a team of humanitarian and development specialists sent to assist with setting up of a government after over a decade of civil war. Although personal security was an issue, most interventions we made yielded quick positive impact on the lives of the ordinary people. Recently, I have been involved in an advisory capacity to help a government multisectoral programme deliver 5 million work opportunities over a 5 years period.

Ebenezar: This year's theme for International Biodiversity day is ''Water and Biodiversity''. Africa has some world famous Water sources; Niger, Nile, Lake Victoria. . .just to name a few. How do you think Africa has fared as regards water conservation?

Gama: From my geography lessons I learnt that Planet Earth has about 3% drinkable water by volume; 1% underground, 1% frozen as snow and only 1% available as fresh water in lakes and rivers. 97% is salty water, largely in the oceans and mangroves. In biology I also learnt that water sustains all life. These days we are inundated with forecasts that future wars will be over water.
On a sad note, in Africa I have already witnessed communities fight to death over water and grazing land. I have come across cases of wanton deforestation to harvest timber and firewood leading to reduced rainfall and soil erosion culminating in siltation of lakes and dams. In some cases poor agricultural practices lead to non-optimal use of limited water resources.Human induced climate change is compounding the problem, for example, manifesting in erratic rainfall patterns.
On a positive note, I have seen great innovations out of Africa. The integrated agriculture production system developed by Songhai Centre in Benin comes into mind. Most lakes and dams in Africa are covered by the invasive Water Hyacinth, which disrupts ecosystems, limits fish farming and water-based recreation activities, and accelerates water loss through transpiration of leaves. Instead of fighting losing battles with the invasive plant, solutions now exist in Africa to harness the properties of the Water Hyacinth, such as waste water treatment.

Source: inhabitat.com
Ebenezar: Now, lets talk a little about Biomimicry. You're part of the BiomimicrySouth Africa Advisory Group and also a Certified Biomimicry Professional. Do you think Biomimicry is the answer to the World's sustainability question?

Gama: Many people have different perspectives about sustainability. For me, in its simplistic form sustainability is about having enough for all forever.
Some people who specialise in projecting scenarios say we are currently exploiting natural non-renewable resources as if we had one and a half planets. If I can borrow a Chinese proverb, if we do not change direction we will get where we are going – extinction!
Before I sound like a prophet of doom, let me clarify that the human species still has a chance to help fix this planet. I believe the best way to ensure sustainability is to create conditions conducive to life, as observed by Janine Benyus .
Biomimicry is about applying strategies that mimic sustainable natural ecosystems, where collaboration and sharing of resources in mutually beneficial ways is fundamental. The concept of waste does not exist in nature, as one organism’s waste is another’s food or raw material. I recently read an article about how some people are designing storage facilities for toxic waste and developing a plan to warn future generations about the location of these facilities. I was saddened and angered that in spite of all the knowledge humans now possess we are still planning to leave toxic waste for future generations. Some progress is being made with practices such as reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink and up-cycle.I dream of a day when we can match nature’s ability to create closed loops, where there are no wastages along the value chain.Biomimicry offers us the tools to a sustainable planet that future generations can be proud of inheriting from us. I also shared my views on biomimicry and sustainability in an interview (10 minutes into the show) with Aljazeera TV.

Ebenezar: What it the Biominga Innovation Model about? Can you tell me a little about it?
Gama: The Biominga Innovation Model is a framework I co-developed as part of an international  multi-disciplinary team comprising Nancy Woodman (biologist), Robert Suarez (Designer) and Hugo Araujo Cruz (business). I brought the engineering expertise to the team effort.
The innovation model is still to be launched globally, although we are already using it. In a nutshell, the model is based on evolutionary strategies that nature has tested and refined over eons. We investigated how innovation happens in nature and then developed a model that leverages innovation drivers. It can be used for innovation in various contexts including business, product design, process design and system design.

Ebenezar: What is your advice to the world on preservation of Nature and ecosystems? I mean, why should we be bothered about the depleting biomes and stuff like that?
Gama: I believe natural ecosystems are like a library stocked with strategies for thriving on this planet. Therefore, causing any species to be extinct or disrupting ecosystems is like burning a library before others have accessed its knowledge resources.
Biomimicry learning emphasises viewing nature in three ways. Firstly, as a mentor; the focus of biomimicry is not what we can extract from nature but what we can learn from it. Secondly, nature as a model;using the forms, processes, systems, and strategies employed by the natural world as inspiration for sustainable solutions. Thirdly, as a measure; looking at the standards set by nature, biomimicry aims to measure the sustainability of innovation using ecology as a benchmark. Using ecology as a bench mark entails pressure testing solutions against universally applicable principles to sustain life. In biomimicry these are referred to as Life’s Principles.

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for having this stroll with me, I wish you
success in all your projects
To contact Gama, you can visit www.biomimicrysa.co.za or send an email to gamelihle.sibanda [at] pro.biomimicry[dot]net

I'd just leave you with one of my favourite quotes by the Master--Leonardo da Vinci--he said; "Those inspired by a model other than Nature--A mistress above every other master--are labouring in vain". . . we need to preserve Mother Nature because, we have so much to learn from her.
Till my next Stroll, Jesus Loves You. . .

By; Ebenezar Wikina (@Poeticjazz)
THE STROLL, May 2013
All Rights Reserved

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