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Two internship opportunities in Southern Africa: Combining botany and human empowerment

March 2, 2011


There are two unpaid internship opportunities available for students who can combine knowledge about plants with astute social observation.

If you’re interested, contact Georgia Duerst-Lahti, professor of political science, as soon as possible at, as funding deadlines occur immediately upon return from break.

Students who participate in the internships will be able to attend the Indigenous Plant Use Forum (IPUF) in St. Lucia, South Africa. This year’s IPUF conference is held from July 4-7, and will focus on “Biodiversity innovation and opportunities: past knowledge, present activities and future products.” The conference will include an excursion to a cultural village with active demonstrations and some surprise indigenous plant uses with a traditional lunch. Other attractions include fishing, estuary viewing with a boat cruise, lots of eateries, crafts, and walks.

Intern research and duties:
By focusing on a critical botanical—either wild marula trees or rose geranium cultivated by new, small, indigenous farmers—the intern will research/attempt to identify the ideal eco-social sustainability for both the plants and the humans in their current commercialized setting.

The intern will use research on plants as a vehicle to understand the intersection of the social and physical setting, mapping out the conditions for each, in order to systematically establish the implications of various configurations. That is, by undertaking research on the marula trees or rose geranium field plots, the intern will also systematically observe and note the conditions of the wild harvesters or farmers in their physical and social setting.  

For the social research, conversational interviews and participant observation methodology will be used, along with analysis of any relevant documents. 

The research will first establish the main patterns of physical and social conditions, determine the most common configurations of the two, and then analyze various conditions and combinations for the consequences of each primary configuration. The ultimate aim is to identify the ideal configuration for optimal eco-social sustainability. 


Position: Gabane, Botswana, WildFoods of Africa

Supervisor: Frank Taylor, Director, Wild Foods of Africa

Survey marula trees whose fruit is used in food production as the first step of establishing organic certification. One important aspect will be to identify the male/female ratios by doing some ground surveys and analysis using aerial photographs. In addition, the intern may participate in field collections of the different varieties of indigenous melons throughout the country if funding can be established. This project will be undertaken in collaboration with the Dept. of Environmental Science, University of Botswana. 


Position:  KwaZula-Natal, South Africa—Winrock Rose Geranium Essential Oil Project.

Supervisor:  Steve Jacobson, Project Manager, South Africa Essential Oils Project

Duties: Desktop research on rose geranium, followed by test plots in different areas and conditions to identify the "best/ideal" social and/or physical climate. Botanical research includes pests and disease controls under organic conditions, suggesting suitable solutions appropriate for the local context.