A Masters bursary focusing on agricultural trade impacts in Southern Africa is available for 2020, based at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST) at Stellenbosch University. The CST builds on a strong history of transdisciplinary research and complexity studies and hosts leading scientists and students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, providing a vibrant hub for solution-oriented, transdisciplinary, sustainability science. The primary objective of the CST is to provide transformational knowledge on the dynamics of multi-scale social-ecological change, and strategic insights into the new modes of research and governance that can bring about a just transition to a more equitable and sustainable society, in southern Africa and globally.

Impacts of trade transactions in Southern Africa on land use and human wellbeing.

Today, the world is highly interconnected. An item of food in the local grocery store could come from very far away from where it is sold and used. International trade has made this possible by allowing the movements of goods and services across vast distances. There is a new framework, telecoupling, which is used to study these distal connections. Telecoupling as a concept is fairly recent and is used primarily to illustrate the shrinking distance across the world and how seemingly unconnected places could be linked in significant ways. Unlike similar concepts which have been used for much longer (e.g. ecological footprint), telecoupling emphasises two dimensions. First, it focuses on the connections between places rather than how one place is over- or under-shooting its resources needs within its borders. This is important because overshoots have consequences in the resource originating countries – i.e., it is the connection between places that matters.

Second, telecoupling emphasizes a social-ecological lens, rather than only ecological or only social. Telecoupling also introduces ‘spillovers’, which represent unintended consequences or ‘leakages’ in impacts involving a seemingly unconnected third entity in a two-entity exchange. In the economics literature, these are akin to externalities. Spillovers can be represented by investments in conservation which result in displacement of people and loss of land tenure, a clearly unintended consequence of these interventions. This project seeks to understand the consequences of trade transactions and agreements in Southern Africa on both land use, biodiversity and livelihoods. The aim of the project will be to answer questions such as: what are the main and growing agricultural commodities in the region? What are their input requirements (e.g. land, energy and water)? Are they locally or externally used? Who gains from these transactions and who loses? What are the main policies facilitating such transactions? What are the biodiversity consequences? The overall framework for this project will use telecoupling as a lens to analyse these questions.

Call for applications

We seek motivated individuals interested to pursue a Masters, who have a keen interest in sustainability, an interest and ability to integrate across the social and natural sciences, and who enjoy collaboration and working in teams. Interested individuals should have a strong academic track-record, will be expected to be based at CST and participate in the events and activities of the centre, and be interested in any of the following topics and concepts: social-ecological systems, resilience and risk, complexity thinking, tipping points and regime shifts, biodiversity and ecosystem services, social innovation and sustainability transformations. The candidate will be co-supervised by Dr Odirilwe Selomane, the Director of the international Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS, http://www.pecs-science.org/) and Prof Reinette (Oonsie) Biggs, who holds the South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Social-Ecological systems and Resilience.


Bursaries will be funded from the DST/NRF SARChI chair held by Prof Biggs, topped up to the following values:

  • Masters full-time over 2 years: R 120,000 pa (R 10,000 per month)
  • Tuition and reasonable running and travel expenses will also be covered separately.


All students applying for a Masters degree should have completed an Honours or four-year undergraduate degree or equivalent to be eligible. All candidates should show evidence of strong scholarly performance. Based on the National Research Foundation’s funding guidelines, strong preference will be given to South African nationals and under-represented groups.

To apply

Interested candidates should send:

• a motivation letter (detailing your previous experience, your general area of interest, as well as an outline of potential research topics of interest),

• a detailed CV that includes your academic record, previous work experience, any scientific publications on which you have been an author, and the names of at least two academic referees,

• transcripts of academic qualifications,

• at least one example of recent written work (e.g. a paper, report, thesis chapter).

Please submit your applications electronically to Odirilwe Selomane: odirilwes@sun.ac.za

We encourage you to submit your application as soon as possible, but latest by 15 February 2020. Applications will be reviewed as they come.