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Dr Fredrick Ojija

Keep Out! Dr Fredrick Ojija wants to develop effective integrated management strategies for combating and eradicating invasive alien plants in Africa.

His project proposal for the JWO Research Grant is entitled “Combating invasive plants to enhance biodiversity conservation and livelihoods in Africa”.

Ojija says that “millions of rural and urban poor communities in sub-Saharan African countries depend on biodiversity for agriculture, food, and ecosystem services. Their subsistence farming depends primarily on wild pollinators to enhance crop yields. The local people, who depend entirely on biodiversity, use wild fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables as a source of food. They also sell biodiversity resources to the local market to earn income. By this means, biodiversity helps local people improve food security, household income, and fight against poverty.

“Despite its contribution to livelihoods and fighting poverty, biodiversity loss is augmented by invasive alien plants. As the drivers of biodiversity loss, they impair global sustainable development.”

He says his motivation stems from “witnessing the profound impact invasive species have on ecosystems and communities. Invasive plants disrupt native biodiversity, leading to the decline of indigenous species and the degradation of natural habitats. This not only threatens ecological balance but also undermines the livelihoods of local communities that depend on these ecosystems for resources such as food, water, and medicinal plants.

“Moreover, invasive plants exacerbate economic challenges by reducing agricultural productivity and increasing the cost of land management. Many African communities rely heavily on agriculture for their subsistence and income. The spread of invasive species compromises crop yields and pasture quality, thereby affecting food security and economic stability.

Ojija says that “recognising the interconnectedness of biodiversity conservation and human well-being, this research aims to develop sustainable strategies to manage and eradicate invasive plants. By integrating scientific research with community-based approaches, the goal is to restore native ecosystems, protect biodiversity, and improve the resilience of local communities.”

But before that, it’s important “to understand the ecological mechanisms that enable invasive species to thrive”, and then “by controlling invasive alien plants, we can restore native wildlife and improve the quality of the environment. This means healthier crops and more reliable food sources for local communities. Ultimately, the research aims to create a balance where nature thrives and people can lead better, more sustainable lives. It’s about making sure that both the environment and human livelihoods can flourish together.”

Ojija is optimistic about scientific developments that will save threatened species.

“The most hopeful recent scientific development in environment and conservation,” he says, “is the advancement of genetic technologies, particularly CRISPR gene editing. This technology allows precise modifications to the DNA of organisms, offering potential solutions for controlling invasive species, enhancing crop resilience, and restoring endangered species populations. By targeting and neutralising invasive plants or bolstering the genetic diversity of threatened species, CRISPR could revolutionise conservation efforts.”

Until he can change the world, Ojija says he will continue with his “secret obsession with collecting tropical plants and creating mini indoor wilds”.


Dr Fredrick Ojija received his Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management in 2020 from The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania. He lectures on various courses on Biodiversity, Ecology, Environment, Zoology, and Research Methods at Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST), where he serves as head of the Department of Research and Publications.